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! •"...■.•-.•-.--.■-• -. .wSH 










'A aA AA^A^t' 

Lffc^*^ 1.- 




^- ^^'• AScuciL . /iP6^. 














IT may be as well to state, that the lectures 
which are here published were never delivered 
as a complete course, but only one here and two 
there, as matter gradually grew imder my hands ; 
yet so that very much the greater part of what is 
contained in this volume has been at one time or 
another actually delivered. Although I have always 
taken a lively interest in national proverbs, I had 
no intention at the first of making a book about 
them ; but only selected the subject as one which 
I thought, though I was not confident of this, 
might afford me sufficient material for a single 
lecture, which I had undertaken some time ago to 
deliver. I confess that I was at the time almost 
entirely ignorant of the immense number and 
variety of books bearing on the subject. Many of 
these I still know only by name. With some of 
the best, however, I have made myself acquainted, 
and by their aid, with the addition of such farther 
material as I could myself famish, these lectures 
have assumed their present shape ; and I publish 
them, because none of tlie works on proverbs 


which I know are exactly that book for all readers 
which I could have wished to see. Either they 
include matter which cannot be fitly placed before 
all — or they address themselves to the scholar 
alone^ or if not so, are at any rate inaccessible to 
the mere English reader — or they contain bare 
lists of proverbs, with no endeavour to compare, 
illustrate, and explain them — or if they seek to 
explain, yet they do it without attempting to sound 
the depths, or measure the real significance, of that 
which they undertake to unfold. From these or 
other causes it has come to pass, that with a 
multitude of books, many of them admirable, on 
a subject so popular, there is no single One which 
is jfrequent in the hands of men. I will not deny 
that, with all the slightness and shortcomings of 
my own, I have still hoped to supply, at least for 
the present, this deficiency. 

Itchenstoee, December 13, 1852. 



















IT is very likely that from some of us proverbs 
have never attracted the notice which I am per- 
suaded they deserve ; and from this it may follow 
that, when invited to bestow even a brief attention 
on them, we are in some doubt whether they will 
repay our pains. We think of them but as sayings 
on the lips of the multitude ; not a few of them 
have been familiar to us as far back as we can 
remember ; often employed by ourselves, or in our 
hearing, on slight and trivial occasions : and thus, 
from these and other causes, it may very well be, 
that, however sometimes one may have taken our 
fancy, we yet have remained blind in the main to 
the wit, wisdom, and imagination, of which they 
are full ; and very little conscious of the amuse- 
ment, instruction, insight, which they are capable 
of yielding. Unless too we have devoted a cer- 
tain attention to the subject, we shall not be at all 
aware how little those more familiar ones, which 
are frequent on the lips of men, exhaust the 
treasure of our native proverbs ; how many and 
what excellent ones remain behind^ Idl-^ny^^ \sss^ 


for the most part fallen out of sight ; or what 
riches in like kind other nations possess. We 
may little guess how many aspects of interest 
there are in which our own by themselves, and 
our own compared with those of other people, may 
be regarded. 

And yet there is much to induce us to recon- 
sider our judgment, should we be thus tempted to 
slight them, and to count them not merely trite, 
but trivial and unworthy of a serious attention. 
The fact that they please the people, and have 
pleased them for ages, — ^that they possess so 
vigorous a principle of life, as to have maintained 
their ground/ ever new and ever young, through 
all the centuries of a nation's existence, — nay, that 
many of them have pleased not one nation only, 
but many, so that they have made themselves an 
home in the most diflferent lands, — and further, 
that they have, not a few of them, come down to 
us from remotest antiquity, borne safely upon the 
waters of that great stream of time, which has 
swallowed so much beneath its waves, — all this, I 
think, may well make ns pause, should we be 
tempted to turn away from them with anything of 
indiflerence or disdain. 

And then further, there is this to be considered, 
that some of the greatest poets, the profoundest 
philosophers, the most learned scholars, the most 
genial writers in every kind, have delighted in 
them, have made large and frequent use of them, 
have bestowed infinite labour on the gathering and 
elucidating of them. In a fastidious age, indeed^ 


and one of false refinement, they may go nearly or 
quite out of use among the so-called upper classes. 
No gentleman, says Lord Chesterfield, or '' no man 
of fashion/' as I think is his exact phrase, " ever 
uses a proverb/'* And with how fine a touch of 
nature Shakespeare makes Coriolanus, the man 
■who, with all his greatness, is entirely devoid of 
all sympathy for the people, to utter his scorn of 
them in scorn of their proverbs, and of their fre- 
quent employment of these : 

They said they were an hungry, sighed forth proverbs ; — 
That, hunger broke stone walls ; that, dogs must eat; 
That, meat was made for mouths ; that, the gods sent not 
Com for the rich men only; — ^with these shreds 
They vented their complainings." 

Coriolanus, Act I. Sc. 1. 

But that they have been always dear to the 
true intellectual aristocracy of a nation, there is 
abundant evidence to prove. Take but these 
three names in evidence, which though few, are 
in themselves an host. Aristotle made a collec- 
tion of proverbs ; nor did he. count that he was 
herein doing aught unworthy of his great reputa- 
tion, however some of his adversaries may after- 
wards have made of the fact that he did so an 
imputation against him. He is said to have been 

* A similar contempt of them speaks out in the antithesis 
of the French Jesuit, Bouhours : Les proverbes sont les 
sentences da peuple, et les sentences sont les proverbes 
des honndtes gens. 

B 2 


the first collector of them, though many after- 
-wards followed in the same path. Shakespeare 
loves them so well, that besides often citing them, 
and scattering innumerable covert allusions, rapid 
side glances at them, which we are in danger of 
missing unless at home in the proverbs of England, 
several of his plays, as Measure for Measure, All's 
well that ends well, have popular proverbs for their 
titles. And Cervantes, a name only inferior to 
Shakespeare, has made very plain the afiection 
with which he regarded them. Every reader of 
Don Quixote will remember his squire, who some- 
times cannot open his mouth but there drop from 
it almost as many proverbs as phrases. I might 
name others who have held the proverb in honour 
— ^men who though they may not attain to these 
first three, are yet deservedly accounted great ; as 
Plautus, the most genial of Latin poets, Rabelais 
and Montaigne, the two most original of French 
authors ; and how often Fuller, whom Coleridge 
has styled the wittiest of writers, justifies this 
praise in his witty employment of some old pro- 
verb : and no reader can thoroughly understand 
and enjoy HudibraSy none but will miss a multi- 
tude of its keenest allusions, who is not thoroughly 
familiar with the proverbial literature of England. 
Nor is this all ; we may with reverence adduce 
quite another name than, any of these, the Lord 
himself, as condescending to employ such proverbs 
as he found current among his people. Thus, on 
the occasion of his first open appearance in the 
synagogue of Nazareth, he refers to the proverb. 

l] proverbs in scripturk 6 

Physician^ heal thyself , (Luke iv. 23,) as one which 
his hearers will perhaps bring forward against 
Himself; and again, presently to another, A prO" 
phet is not tvithout honour but in his oum country, 
as attested in his own history ; and at the well of 
Sychar He declares, ** Herein is that saying/' or 
that proverb, "true. One soweth and another 
reapeth" (John iv. 37.) But He is much more 
than a quoter of other men's proverbs ; He is a 
maker of his own. As all forms of buman com- 
position find their archetypes and their highest 
realization in Scripture, as there is no tragedy 
like Job, no pastoral like Ruth, no lyric melodies 
like the Psalms, so we should affirm no proverbs 
like those of Solomon, were it not that " a greater 
than Solomon" has drawn out of the rich treasure 
house of the Eternal Wisdom a series of proverbs 
more costly still. For indeed how much of our 
Lord's teaching, especially as recorded in the three 
first Evangelists, is thrown into this form ; and 
how many of his words have in this shape passed 
over as '* faithful sayings" upon the lips of men; 
and so doing, have fulfilled a necessary condition 
of the proverb, whereof we shall have presently to 

But not urging this testimony any further, — a 
testimony too august to be lightly used, or em- 
ployed merely to swell the testimonies of men — 
least of all, men of such " uncircumcised lips" as, 
with all their genius, were more than one of those 
whom I have named, — and appealing only to the 
latter, I shall be justified, I feel, \t\. ^ffiLX\sM^3^^JMi^ 


whether we listen to those single voices which 
make a siL^ice for themselves, and are heard 
through the centuries and their ages, or to that 
great universal voice of humanity, which is wiser 
even than these (for it is these, with all else which 
is worthy to be heard added to them), there is here 
a subject, which those whose judgments should go 
very far with us have not accounted unworthy of 
their serious regard. 

And I am sure if we bestow on them ourselves 
even a moderate share of attention, we shall be 
ready to set our own seal to the judgment of wiser 
men that have preceded us here. For, indeed, 
what a body of popular good sense and good feel- 
ing, as we shall then perceive, is contained in the 
better, which is also the more numerous, portion 
of them ; what a sense of natural equity, what a 
spirit of kindness breathes out from many of them ; 
what prudent rules for the management of life, 
what shrewd wisdom, which though not of this 
world, is most truly /or it, what frugality, what 
patience, what perseverance, what manly inde- 
pendence, are continually inculcated by them. 
What a fine knowledge of the human heart do 
many of them display; what useful, and not always 
obvious, hints do they offer on many most im- 
portant points, as on the choice of companions, the 
bringing up of children, the bearing of prosperity 
and adversity, the restraint of all immoderate ex- 
pectations. And they take a yet higher range 
than this ; they have their ethics, their theology, 
. their views of man in his highest relations of all. 

l] shoktness, sense, salt. 7 

as man with his fellow man^ and man with his 
Maker. Be these always correct or not, and I 
should be very far from affirming that they always 
are so, the student of humanity, he who because 
he is a man counts nothing human to be alien to 
him, can never without wilfully foregoing an im- 
portant document, and one which would have 
helped him often in his studies, altogether neglect 
or pass them by. 

But what, it may be asked, before we proceed 
further, is a proverb ? Nothing is harder than a 
definition. While on the one hand there is for 
the most part no easier task than to detect a fault 
or flaw in the definitions of those who have gone 
before us, nothing on the other is more difficult 
than to propose one of our own, which shall not 
also present a vulnerable side. Some one has said 
that these three things go to the constituting of a 
proverb, shortness, sense, and salt. In brief pointed 
sayings of this kind, the second of the qualities 
enumerated here, namely sense, is sometimes sacri- 
ficed to alliteration. I would not affirm that it is 
so here : for the words are not ill spoken, though 
they are very far from satisfying the rigorous 
requirements of a definition, as will be seen when 
we consider what the writer intended by his three 
esses, which it is not hard to understand. The 
proverb, he would say, must have shortness ; it 
must be succinct, utterable in a breath. It must 
have sense, not being, that is, the mere small talk 
of conversation, slight and trivial, else it would 


perish as soon as born, no one taking the trouble 
to keep it alive. It must have salt, that is, besides 
its good sense, it must in its manner and outward 
form be pointed and pungent, having a sting in it, 
a barb which shall not suffer it to drop lightly from 
the memory.* Yet, regarded as a definition, this 
of the triple 8 fails, as I have said ; it indeed errs 
both in defect and excess. 

Thus in demanding shortness^ it errs in excess. 
It is indeed quite certain that a good proverb will 
be short, as short, that is, as is compatible with the 
fall and forcible conveying of that which it intends. 
Brevity, "the soul of wit,^' will be eminently 
the soul of a proverb's wit; it will contain, ac- 
cording to Fuller's definition, " much matter de- 
cocted into few words.'* Oftentimes it will consist 
of two, three, or four, and these sometimes mono- 
syllabic, words. Thus Extremes meet; — Right 
wrongs no man; — Forewamedy forearmed; — 
with a thousand more.f But still shortness is only 
a relative term, and it would perhaps be more 

* with this Martial's so happy epigram upon 
epif2;rams, in which everytlung runs exactly parallel to 
that which has been said above : 
'' Omne epigramma sit instar apis ; sit aculeus illi, 
Sint sua mella, sit et corporis ezigui ;" 
which may be indifferently rendered thus : 
"Three things must epigrams, like bees, have all — 

Its sting, its honey, and its body small." 

t The very shortest proverb which I know in the world' 

is this German : Voll, toll ; which sets out very well the 

connexion between fulness and folly, pride and abundance 

of bread. In that seeking of extreme brevity noted aboye,^ 

tbejr sometimes become exceedingVy e\\\^Vvc«\, ^«i\*W3L^\k 


accurate to say that a proverb must be concise, 
cut down, that is, to the fewest possible words ; 
condensed, quintessential wisdom.* But that, if 
only it fulfil this condition of being as short as 
possible, it need not be absolutely very short, there 
are suflScient examples to prove. Thus Freytag 
has admitted the following, which indeed hovers 
on the confines of the fable, into his great collection 
of Arabic proverbs : They said to the camel-bird, 
[i. e., the ostrich,] " Carry .•" it answered, ' I 
cannot, for I am a bird.* They said, " Fly ;'* it 
answered, ' / cannot, for I am a camel/ This 
could not be shorter, yet, as compared with the 
greater number of proverbs, is not short.f Even 
so the sense and salt, which are ascribed to the 
proverb as other of its necessary conditions, can 
hardly be said to be such ; seeing that flat, saltless 
proverbs, though comparatively rare, there cer- 

this is the case more with the ancient than with the modem,) 
80 much so as to omit even the vital element of the sen- 
tence, the verb. Thus : Xpfifiar dvfip :— Sus Minervam ; — 
Fures clamorem ; — Meretrix pudicam; — ^Amantes amentes. 

* This is what Aristotle means when he ascribes arvvrofiia 
— which in another place he opposes to the oyKos Xc^ecos— 
to it. 

t Let serve for farther proof this eminently witty old 
German proverb, which, despite its apparent length, has 
not forfeited its character as such. I shall prefer to leave 
it in the original : Man spricht, an viererlei Leuten ist Man- 
gel auf Erden : an Pfafien, sonst dUrfbe einer nit 6 bis 
7 Pfrnenden ; an Adelichen, sonst woUte nit jeder Bauer 
ein Junker sein; an Huron, sonst wiirden die Handwork 
Eheweiber und Nunnen nit treibeu*, «ii ^\A<s^<, ^<^'<s^s^ 
wiirden Christen nit wuehem. 


tainly are; while yet, be it remembered, we are 
not considering now what are the ornaments of a 
good proverb, but the essential marks of all. 

And then moreover it errs in defect ; for it has 
plainly omitted one quality of the proverb, and 
that the most essential of all — I mean popularity , 
acceptance and adoption on the part of the people. 
Without this popularity, without these suflFrages 
and this consent of the many, no saying, however 
brief, however wise, however seasoned with salt, 
however worthy on all these accounts to have 
become a proverb, however fulfilling all other its 
conditions, can yet be esteemed as such. This 
popularity, omitted in that enumeration of the 
essential notes of the proverb, is yet the only one 
whose presence is absolutely necessary, whose 
absence is fatal to the claims of any saying to be 
regarded as such. 

Those, however, who have occupied themselves 
with the making of collections of proverbs have 
sometimes failed to realize this to themselves with 
sufficient clearness, or at any rate have not kept 
it always before them ; and thus it has come to 
pass, that many collections include whatever brief 
sayings their gatherers have anywhere met with, 
which to them have appeared keenly, or wisely, or 
wittily spoken ;* while yet a multitude of these 

* When Erasmus, after discussing and rejecting the 
definitions of those who had gone before him, himself de- 
fines the proverb thus, Celebre dictum, scita quapiam novi- 
tate insigne, it appears to me that he has not escaped the 
fault which he has blamed in others — that, namely, of con- 


have never received their adoption into the great 
family of proverbs, or their rights of citizenship 
therein : inasmuch as they have never passed into 
general recognition and currency, have no claim to 
this title, however just a claim they may have on 
other grounds to our admiration and honour. For 
instance, this word of Goethe's, " A man need not 
be an architect to live in an house,*' seems to me 
to have every essential of a proverb, saving only 
that it has not passed over upon the lips of men. 
It is a saying of manifold application ; an universal 
law is knit up in a particular example ; I mean 
that gracious law in the distribution of blessing, 
which does not limit our use and enjoyment of 
things by our understanding of them, but con- 
tinually makes the enjoyment much wider than 
the knowledge ; so that it is not required that one 
be a botanist to have pleasure in a rose, nor a critic 
to delight in Paradise Lost, nor a theologian to 
taste all the blessings of Christian faith, nor, as he 
expresses it, an architect to live in an house. And 
here is an inimitable saying of Schiller's: "Heaven 
and earth fight in vain against a dunce /' yet it is 
not a proverb, because his alone ; although abun- 

fonnding the accidental adjuncts of a good proverb with the 
necessary conditions of every proverb. In rigour the whole 
second clause of the definition should be dismissed, and 
Celebre dictum alone remain. Better Eifelein (Sprich* 
loorter des Deuischen Volkes, Friburg, 1840, p. x.) : Das 
Sprichwort ist ein mit ofientlichem Geprage ausgemiinzter 
Saz, der seinen Curs und anerkannten Werth unter dem 
Volke hat. 

12 KnOC A5B lyEFOniHXSr Oir A FB0TSKBL [lect. 

dandy worthy to Iiate became such r*^ moring as it 
does in the same line widi, though £ur superior to^ 
the Chinese prorerh, irhidi itseif also is good: 
One has never so wmeh need of Jus wit, as when 
he has to do with a/ooL 

Or to take another example still more to the 
point. James HoweO, a prolific EngKrfi writer of 
the eazKer half of the serenteenth century^ one 
certainly meriting better than that ahnost entire 
obiiricm into which his writings hate Mien, occu- 
pied himself mnch with proierbs; and besides 
collecting those of oihersy he has himself set down 
'' fire hundred new sayings, which in tract of time 
may senre for proTcrbs to posterity/' As was to 
be expected, they hare not so done; for it is not 
after this artificial method that such are bom ; yet 
many of these proTcrbs in expectation are expressed 
with sense and felicity ; for example : '' Pride is a 
flower that grows in the deviTs garden ;" as again^ 
the selfishness which characterizes too many pro- 
yerbs is not iU reproduced in the following : '^ Bum 
not thy fingers to snuff another man's candle f and 
there is at any rate good theology in the following : 
'^ Faith is a great lady^ and good works are her 
attendants f^ and in this : '' The poor are God^s 
receivers^ and the angels are his auditors/' Yet 
for all this^ it would be inaccurate to quote these 
as proverbs^ (and their author himself^ as we have 

* It suggests, howerer, the admirable Spanish proverb, 
spoken no doubt out of the same conyiction : Dios me d^ 
eoDtienda, con qnien me entienda. 


seen, did not do more than set them out as pro- 
verbs upon trial,) inasmuch as they have remained 
the private property of him who first devised them, 
never having passed into general circulation; which 
until men^s sayings have done, maxims, sentences, 
apothegms, aphorisms they may be, and these of 
excellent temper and proof, but proverbs as yet 
they are not. 

It is because of this, the popularity inherent in 
a genuine proverb, that from such an one in a 
certain sense there is no appeal. You will not 
suppose me to intend that there is no appeal from 
its wisdom, truth, or justice ; from any word of 
man^s there may be such ; but no appeal from it, 
as most truly representing a popular conviction. 
Aristotle, who in his ethical and political writings 
often finds very much more than this in it, always 
finds this. It may not be, it very often will not be, 
an universal conviction which it expresses, but ever 
one popular and widespread. So far indeed from 
an universal, very often over against the one pro- 
verb there will be another, its direct antagonist ; 
and the one shall belong to the kingdom of light, 
the other to the kingdom of darkness. Common 
fame is seldom to blame ; here is the baser pro- 
verb, for as many as drink in with greedy ears all 
reports to the injury of their neighbours; being 
determined from the first that they shall be true. 
But it is not left without its compensation: '* They 
say so/' is half a liar; here is the better word 
with which they may arm themselves, who count 
it a primal duty to dose their ears against all^wfi];^. 


unauthenticated rumours to the discredit of their 
brethren. The noblest vengeance is to forgive; 
here is the godlike proverb on the manner in which 
wrongs should be recompensed : He who cannot 
revenge himself is weak, he who mil not is vile,^ 
here is the devilish. These lines occur in a sonnet 
which Howell has prefixed to his collection of 
proverbs : 

" The people's voice the voice of God we call ; 
And what are proverbs but the people's voice P 
Coined first, and current made by common choice ? 
Then sure they must have weight and truth withal ;" 

It will follow from what has just been said, that, 
true in the main, they yet cannot be taken without 
certain qualifications and exceptions.f 

Herein in great part the force of a proverb lies, 
namely, that it has already received the stamp of 
popular allowance. A man might produce, (for 
what another has done, he might do again,) some- 
thing as witty, as forcible, as much to the point, 
of his own ; which should be hammered at the 
instant on his own anvil. Yet still it is not "the 
wisdom of many;^^ it has not stood the test of 

* Chi non puo fare sua vendetta h debile, chi non vuole 
h vile. 

f Quintilian's words (Inst. 6. 11. 41), which are to the 
same efiect, must be taken with the same exception ; 
Neque enim durd.ssent hsec in sternum, nisi vera omnibus 
viderenturj and also Don Quixote's: Par^ceme me, 
Sancho, que no ay refran que no sea verdad^ro, porque 
todas son sentencias sacadas de la misma experiencia, 
madre de las ciencias todas. 


experience ; it wants that which the other already 
has, but which it only after a long period can 
acquire — the consenting voice of many and at 
different times to its wisdom and truth. A man 
employing a '* proverb of the ancients/^ (1 Sam. 
xxiv. 13,) is not speaking of his own, but uttering 
a faith and conviction very far wider than that of 
himself or of any single man ; and it is because he 
is so doing that they, in Lord Bacon's words, 
''serve not only for ornament and delight, but also 
for active and civil use ; as being the edge tools' of 
speech which cut and penetrate the knots of 
business and affairs.^' The proverb has in fact 
the same advantage over the word now produced 
for the first time, which for present currency and 
value has the recognised coin of the realm over the 
rude unstamped ore newly washed from the stream, 
or dug up from the mine. This last may possess 
an equal amount of fineness ; but the other has 
been stamped long ago, has already passed often 
from man to man, and found free acceptance with 
all :* it inspires therefore a confidence which the 
ruder metal cannot at present challenge. And the 
same satisfaction which the educated man finds in 
referring the particular matter before him to the 
universal law which rules it, a plainer man finds in 
the appeal to a proverb. He is doing the same 
thing j taking refuge, that is, as each man so 

* Thus in a proverb about proverbs, the Italians say, 
with a true insight into this its prerogative : H proverbio 
sHnvecchia, e chi vuol far bene, vi si specchia. 


gladly does, from his mere self and single fallible 
judgment, in a larger experience and in a wider 
conviction. . 

And in all this which has been urged lies, as it 
seems to me, the explanation of a sentence of an 
ancient grammarian, which at first sight appears to 
contain a bald absurdity, namely, that a proverb 
is '' a saying without an author/^ For, however 
-without a known author it may, and in the majo- 
rity' of cases it must be, still, as we no more believe 
in the spontaneous generation of proverbs than of 
anything else, an author every one of them must 
have had. It might, however, and it often will 
have been, that in its utterance the author did but 
precipitate the floating convictions of the society 
round him; he did but clothe in happier form 
what others had already felt, or even already 
uttered; for often a proverb has been in this 
aspect, " the wit of one, and the wisdom of many.'* 
And further, its constitutive element, as we must 
all now perceive, is not the utterance on the part 
of the one, but the acceptance on the part of the 
many. It is their sanction which first makes it to 
be such; so that every one who took or gave" it 
during the period when it was struggling into 
recognition may claim to have had a share in its 
production ; and in this sense without any single 
author it may have been. From the very first the 
people will have vindicated it for their own. And 
thus though they do not always analyse the com- 
pliment paid to them in the use of their proverbs, 
tbey always feel it ; they feel that a writer or 


speaker using these is putting himself on their 
ground^ is entering on their region, and they 
welcome him the more cordially for this.* 

Let us now consider if some other have not 
sometimes been proposed as essential notes of the 
proverb, which yet are in fact accidents, such as 
may be present or absent without aflfecting it 
vitally. Into an error of this kind they have 
fallen, who have claimed for the proverb, and 
made it one of its necessary conditions, that it 
should be a figurative expression. A moment's 
consideration will be sufficient to disprove this. 
How many proverbs, such as Haste makes waste ; 
— Honesty is the best policy, with ten thousand 
more, have nothing figurative about them. Here 
again the error has arisen from taking that which 
belongs certainly to very many proverbs, and those 
oftentimes the best and choicest, and transferring 
it, as a necessary condition, to all. This much 
of truth they who made the assertion certainly 
had ; namely, that the employment of the concrete 
instead of the abstract is one of the most frequent 
means by which it obtains and keeps its popularity ; 

* The name which the proverb bears in Spanish points 
to this fact, that popnlarity is a necessary condition of it. 
This name is Jiot proverhio, for that in Spanish signifies an 
apothegm, an aphorism, a maxim ; but rqfran, which is a 
refereniOi from the frequency of \i% repetition ; yet see 
Diez, JEtymol, Worterbuch, p. 284. The etymology of the 
Greek irapoiiua is somewhat doubtful, but it too means 
probably a tritef wayside saying. 


for SO the proverb makes its appeal to the whole 
man — not to the intellectual faculties alone^ but to 
the feelings, to the fancy, or even to the imagi^ 
nation, as well, stirring the whole man to pleasurable 

By the help of an instance or two we can best 
realize to ourselves how great an advantage it 
thus obtains for itself. Suppose, for example, one 
were to content himself with saying, *' He may wait 
till he is a beggar, who waits to be rich by other 
men's deaths,'^ would this trite morality be likely to 
go half so far, or to be remembered half so long, 
as the vigorous comparison of this proverb : He 
who waits for dead men^ a shoes may go barefoot?^ 
Or again, what were " All men are mortal,^' as 
compared with the proverb : Every door may be 
shut but deatNs door? Or let one observe: 
" More perish by intemperance than are drowned 
in the sea,'' is this anything better than a painful, 
yet at the same time a flat, truism ? But let it be 
put in this shape : More are drowned in the beaker 
than in the ocean ;t or again in this : More are 
droumed in wine and in beer than in water ;{: 
(and these both are German proverbs,) and the 
assertion assumes quite >a different character. There 
is something that lays hold on us now. We are 
struck with the smaUness of the cup as set against 

* The same, under a different image, in Spanish : Larga 
80ga tira, qoien por muerte agena suspira. 
t Im Becher eraaufen mehr als im Meere. 
X In We'm and Bier erfcrinken mehr denn im Wasser. 

l] rhyme in proverbs. 19 

the vastness of the ocean^ while yet so many more 
deaths are ascribed to that than to this ; and far- 
ther with the fact that literally none are^ and none 
could be^ drowned in the former^ while multitudes 
perish in the latter. In the Justifying of the paradox, 
in the extricating of the real truth from the apparent 
falsehood of the statement, in the answer to the 
appeal made here to the imagination, — ^an appeal 
and challenge which, unless it be responded to, the 
proverb must remain unintelligible to us, — in all 
this there is a process of mental activity, often- 
times so rapidly exercised as scarcely to be percep- 
tible, yet not the less carried on with a pleasurable 

Let me mention now a few other of the more 
frequent helps which the proverb employs for ob* 
taining currency among men, for being listened to 
with pleasure by them, for not slipping again from 
their memories who have once heard it ; — ^yet helps 
which are evidently so separable from it, that none 
can be in danger of affirming them essential parts 
or conditions of it. Of these rhyme is the most 
prominent. It would lead me altogether from my 
immediate argument, were I to enter into a dis- 
quisition on the causes of the charm which rhyme 
has for us all ; but that it does possess a wondrous 
.charm, that we like what is like^ is attested by a 

* Here is the explanation of the perplexity of Erasmus. 
Deinde fit, neseio quo pacto, ut sententia proverbio quasi 
vibrata fenat aorius auditoris animum, et aculeos quosdam 
cogitationiixn relinqoat infixos. 



thousand facts, aod not least by the circumstance 
that into this rhyming form a very great multi- 
tude of proverbs, and those among the most widely 
current, have been thrown. Though such will pro- 
bably at once be present to the minds of all, yet let 
me mention a few: Good mind, good find; — 
Wide will wear, but tight will tear ; — Truth may be 
blamed, but cannot be shamed; — Little strokes fell 
great oaks ; — Wom^sjars breed men^s wars ; — A 
king^s face should give grace ; — East, west, home 
is best; — Store is no sore; — Slow help is no 
help ; — Who goes a-borrounng, goes a-sorr owing ; 
— with many more, uniting, as you will observe 
several of them do, this of rhyme with that which I 
have spoken of before, namely, extreme brevity 
and conciseness.* 

* So, too, in other languages ; Qui prend, se rend ; — 
Qui se loue, s'emboue; — Chi Til piano, vil sano, e \^ lontano; 
— Chi compra terra, compra guerra; — Quien se muda. 
Dies le ayuda ; — Wie gewonnen, so zerronnen ; and the 
Latin medieval ; — Qualis vita, finis ita ; — Via crucis, via 
lucis; — Uniti muniti. — We sometimes regard rhyme as a 
modem invention, and to the modem world no doubt the 
discovery of all its capabilities, and the consequent large 
application of it belongs. But proverbs alone would be 
sufficient to show that in itself it is not modern, however 
restricted in old times the employment of it may have been. 
For instance, there is a Greek proverb to express that men 
learn by their sufferings more than by any other teaching : 
HaBtifioTa, lutBrifjuiTa (Herod., i. 207 ;) one which in the 
Latin, Nocumenta, documenta, or, Qu» nocent, docent, 
finds both in rhyme and sense its equivalent ; to both of 
which evidently the inducement lay in the chiming and 
rhyming words. Another rhyming Greek proverb which 
I hare met, BXija-fioini, €ViXt|0'|iovt|, iTtt^\^m^>i^Ei«X.Msi^«» of 


Alliteration, which is nearly allied to rhyme, is 
another of the helps whereof the proverb largely 
avails itself. Alliteration was at one time an im- 
portant element in our early English versification ; 
it almost promised to contend with rhyme itself, 
whiqh should be the most important ; and perhaps, 
if some great master in the art had arisen, might 
have retained a far greater hold on English poetry 
than it now possesses. At present it is merely 
secondary and subsidiary. Yet it cannot be called 
altogether unimportant; no master of melody 
despises it ; on the contrary, the greatest, as in 
our days Tennyson, make the most frequent, though 
not always the most obvious, use of it. In the 
proverb you will find it of continual recurrence, 
and where it falls, as, to be worth anything, it 
must, on the key- words of the sentence, of very 
high value. Thus : Frost and fraud both end in 
foul; — Like lips, like lettuce; — Meal and matins 
minish no way ; — Who swims in sin, shall sink 
in sorrow ; — No cross, no crown ; — Out of debt, 
out of danger ; — Do in hill as you would do in 
hall ;* that is. Be in solitude the same that you 
would be in a crowd. I will not detain you with 
further examples of this in other languages ; but 

blessiDgs is too often accompanied with forgetfulness of 
their Author (Deut 8. 11—14,) is, I fancy, not ancient— at 
least does not date farther back than Greek Christianity. 
The sentiment would imply this, and the fact that the word 
hrikrj<riMovri does not occur in classical Greek would seem 
to be decisive upon it. 
* So in Latin : Nil sole et sale utilius \ and iiL Q;it^<^\L\ 
a, <rij/i a. 


such occur^ and in such numbers that it seems idle 
to quote them, in all ; I will only adduce, in con- 
cluding this branch of the subject, a single Italian 
proverb, which in a remarkable manner unites all 
three qualities of which we have been last treating, 
brevity, rhyme, and alliteration : Traduttori^ tra- 
ditori ; one which we might perhaps reconstitute 
in English thus : TVanslators, traitors ; so imtrue, 
for the most part, are they to the genius of their 
original, to its spirit, if not to its letter, and 
frequently to both; so do they surrender, 
rather than render, its meaning; not turning, 
but only overturning, it from one language to 

A certain pleasant exaggeration, the use of the 
figure hyperbole, a figure of natural rhetoric which 
Scripture itself does not disdain to employ, is a 
not unfrequent engine with the proverb to procure 
attention, and to make a way for itself into the 
minds of men. Thus the Persians have a proverb : 
A needless eye is wide enough for two friends ; 
the whole world is too narrow for two foes. 
Again, of a man whose good luck seems never to 
forsake him, so that from the very things which 
would be another man^s ruin he extricates himself 
not merely without harm, but with credit and 
with gain, the Arabs say: Fling him into the 

* This is St. Jerome's pun, who complains that the 
Latin versions of the Greek Testament current in the 
Church in his day were too many of them not versiones, 
but eversiones. 


Nile^ and he will come up with a fish in his mouth ; 
while of such a Fortunatus as this the Germans 
have a proverb : If he flung a penny on the 
roofy a dollar would come down to him;^ as, 
again, of the man in the opposite extreme of 
fortune, to whom the most unlikely calamities, 
and such as beforehand might seem to exclude 
one another, befall, they say : He would fall on 
his back, and break his nose. 

In all this which I have just traced out, in the 
fact that the proverbs of a language are so fre- 
quently its highest bloom and flower, *while yet so 
much of their beauty consists often in curious 
felicities of diction pertaining exclusively to some 
single language, either in a rapid conciseness to 
which nothing tantamount exists elsewhere, or in 
rhymes which it is hard to reproduce, or in alli- 
terations which do not easily find their equivalents, 
or in other verbal happinesses such as these, lies 
the diflSculty which is often felt, which I shall 
myself often feel in the course of these lectures, of 
transferring them without serious loss, nay, some- 
times the impossibility of transferring them at all 
from one language to another.f Oftentimes, to 

* Wiirf er einen Groschen anfs Dach, fiel ihm Ein 
Thaler herunter ; — compare another : Wer Gliick hat, 
dem kalbet ein Ochs. 

t Thus in respect of this German proverb : 
Stultus und Stolz 
Wachset aus Einem Holz ; 
its transfer into any other languages is manifestly im- 
possible. The same may be affirmed of another, .com- 


use an image of Erasmus,* they are like those 
wines, (I believe the Spanish Valdepdias is one,) 
of which the true excellence can only be known 
by those who drink them in the land which gave 
them birth. Transport them under other skies, 
or, which is still more fatal, empty them from 
vessel to vessel, and their strength and flavour will 
in great part have disappeared in the process. 

Still this is rather the case, where we seek 
deliberately, and only in a literary interest, to 
translate some proverb which we admire from its 
native language into our own or another. Where, 
on the contrary, it has transferred itself, made for 
itself a second home, and taken root a second 
time in the heart and aff'ections of a people, in 
such a case one is continually surprised at the in- 
stinctive skill with which it has found compensa- 
tions for that which it has been compelled to 
let go ; it is impossible not to admire the un- 
conscious skill with which it has replaced one vigo- 
rous idiom by another, one happy rhyme or play 
on words by its equivalent ; and all this even in 
those cases where the extremely narrow limits in 

mendiog stay-at-home habits to the wife : Die Sausfrau 
soil nit sein eine Aurfrau ; or again of this beautiful 
Spanish one : La verdad es siempre verde. 

* Habent enim hoc peculiare pleraqne proverbia, ut in 
eSi lingu^ sonare postulant in qu& nata sunt ; quod si in 
alienum sermonem demigr^rint, multum gratis decedat. 
Quemadmodum sunt et vina qusedam quss recusant expor- 
tari, nee germanam saporis gratiam obtineant, nisi in his 
loaiB in guibus proveniunt. 


which it must confine itself allow it the very 
smallest liberty of selection. And thus, presenting 
itself equally finished and complete in two or even 
more languages, the internal evidence will be quite 
insufficient to determine which of its forms we 
shall regard as the original, and which as a copy. 
For example, the proverb at once German and 
French, which I can present in no comelier 
English dress than this. 

Mother's truth 
Zeeps constant youth ; 

but which in German runs thus, 

Wird tdglich neu ; 

and in French, 

Tendresse matemelle 
Toujours se renouvelle : 

appears to me as exquisitely graceful and tender 
in the one language as in the other ; while yet so 
much of its beauty depends on the form, that 
beforehand one could hardly have expected that 
the charm of it would have survived its transfer 
to the second language, whichever that may be, 
wherein it found an home. Having thus opened 
the subject, I shall reserve its further development 
for the lectures which follow. 



IN m7 preceding lecture I occuped your atten- 
tianwith the Ibnn and definitumof a proTerb; 
let us proceed in the present to realize to ooiselves^ 
so fu* as this mi^ be possiUey the processes by 
which a nation gets together the great body of 
its proverbs, the sonroes from which it mainly 
derives them^ and the drcnmstanoes under which 
such as it makes for itself of new, had their birth 
and generation. 

And first, I would call to your attention the 
&ct that a vast niuiber of its proverbs a people 
does not make for itself, but finds ready made to 
its hands : it enters upon them as a part of its 
intellectual and moral inheritance. The world 
has now endured so long, and the successive gene- 
rations of men have thought, felt, enjoyed, suffered, 
and altogether learned so much, that there is an 
immense stock of wisdom which may be said to 
belong to humanity in common, being the gathered 
fruits of all this its experience in the past. Hven 
Aristotle, more than two thousand years ago, could 
speak of proverbs as ^' the fragments of an elder 
wisdom, which, on account of their brevity and 
aptness, had amid a general wreck and ruin been 
preserved.'^ These, the common property of the 


civilized world, are the original stock with which 
each nation starts; these, either orally handed 
down to it, or made its own by those of its earlier 
writers who brought it into living communication 
with the past. Thus, and through these channels, a 
vast number of Greek, Latin, and medieval proverbs 
live on with us, and with all the modem nations 
of the world. 

It is, indeed, oftentimes a veritable surprise to 
discover the venerable age and antiquity of a 
proverb, which we have hitherto assumed to be 
quite a later birth of modem society. Thus we 
may perhaps suppose that well-known word which 
forbids the too accurate scanning of a present. 
One must not look a gift horse in the mouth, to 
be of English extraction, the genuine growth of our 
own soil. I will not pretend to say how old it may 
be, but it is certainly as old as Jerome, a Latin 
father of the fourth century; who, when some 
found fault with certain writings of his, replied 
with a tartness which he could occasionally exhibit, 
that they were voluntary on his part, free-will 
offerings, and with this quoted the proverb, that 
it did not behove to look a gift horse in the mouth ; 
and before it comes to us, we meet it once more in 
one of the rhjrmed Latin verses, which were such 
great favourites in the middle ages : 

Si qnis dat maimos, ne qusere in dentibos annos. 

Again, lAars should have good memories is a 
saying which probably we assume to be modern ; 
yet it is very far from so being. The same Jerome^ 


who, I may observe by the way, is a very great 
quoter of proverbs, and who has preserved some 
that would not otherwise have descended to us,* 
speaks of one as " unmindful of the old proverb. 
Liars should have good memories/^f and we find it 
ourselves in a Latin writer a good deal older than 
him.l So too I was certainly surprised to discover 
the other day that our own proverb : Good company 
on a journey is worth a coach, has come down to 
us from the ancient world. § 

Having lighted just now on one of those Latin 
rhymed verses, let me by the way guard against an 
error about them, into which it would be very easy 
to fall. I have seen it suggested that these, if not 

* Thus is it, I believe, with. Bos lassus fortius figit 
pedem ; a proverb with which he warns the younger 
Augustine not to provoke a contest with him, the weary, 
but therefore the more formidable, antagonist. 

t Oblitus veteris proverbii : mendaces memores esse 
oportere. Let me quote here Fuller's excellent unfolding 
of this proverb : ** Memory in a liar is no more than needs. 
For first lies are hard to be remembered, because many, 
whereas truth is but one : secondly, because a lie cursorily 
told takes little footing and settled fastness in the teller's 
memory, but prints itself deeper in the hearers, who take 
the greater notice because of the improbability and 
deformity thereof ; and one will remember the sight of a 
monster longer than the sight of an handsome body. 
Hence comes it to pass that when the liar hath forgotten 
himself, his auditors put him in mind of the lie and take 
him therein." 

J Quintilian, Inst, 1. 4. 

§ Cornea facundus in vift pro vehiculo est. 

il] rhymed latin proverbs. 29 

the source from which, are yet the channels hy 
which, a great many proverbs have reached us. 
I should greatly doubt it. This much we may 
conclude from the existence of proverbs in this 
shape, namely, that since these rhymed or leonine 
verses went altogether out of fashion at the re- 
vival of a classical taste in the fifteenth century, 
such proverbs as are found in this form may be 
affirmed with a tolerable certainty to date at least 
as far back as that period ; but not that in all or 
even in a majority of cases, this shape was their 
earliest. Oftentime the proverb in its more popular 
form is so greatly superior to the same in this its 
Latin monkish dress, that the latter by its tameness 
and flatness betrays itself at once as the inadequate 
translation, and we cannot fail to regard the other 
as the genuine proverb. Many of them are " so 
essentially Teutonic, that they frequently appear to 
great disadvantage in the Latin garbwhich has been 
huddled upon them.^^* Thus, when we have on 
one side the English, Hungry bellies have no ears, 
and on the other the Latin, 

Jejunus venter non audit verba libenter, 
who can doubt that the first is the proverb, and the 
second only its versification? Or who would hesitate 
to affirm that the old Greek proverb, A rolling 
stone gathers no moss, may very well have come 
to us without the intervention of the medieval 
Latin, • 

Non fit hirsntos lapis hinc atque inde volntus P 

* Kemble, Salomon and Saturn, p. 56. 


And the tme state of the case comes ont still more 
dearly^ where there are two of these rhymed Latin 
equiyalents for the one popular proverb^ and these 
quite independent of each other. So it is in respect 
of onr English proyerb : A bird in the hand is 
worth two tfi the bush ; irhich appears in this 

Una ayis in dextra melior qnam qnatnor extra ; 

And also in this : 

Capta ayis est plans quam mille in gramine mris. 

Who can fail to see here two independent attempts 
to render the same saying ? Sometimes the Latin 
line confesses itself to be only the rendering of a 
popular word ; thus is it with the following : 

Ut dicuwt mulii, cito transit lancea stnlti ; 

in other words : AfooPs bolt is soon shot. 

Then, besides this derivation from elder sources, 
from the literature of nations which as such now 
no longer exist, besides this process in which a 
people are merely receivers and borrowers, there is 
also at somewhat later periods in its life a mutual 
interchange between it and other nations growing 
up beside, and cotemporaneously with it, of their 
own several inventions in this kind ; a free giving 
and taking, in which it is often hard, and oftener 
impossible, to say which is the lender and which 
the borrower. Thus the quantity of proverbs not 
drawn from antiquity, but common to all, or nearly 
all of the modem European languages, is very 
great. The 'solidarity* (to use a-s^oidx^lxlcTiit is 


in vain to strive against) of all the nations of Chris- 
tendom comes out very noticeably here. 

There is indeed nothing in the study of proverbs^ 
in the attribution of them to their right owners^ 
in the arrangement and citation of them^ which 
creates a greater perplexity than the circumstances 
of finding the same proverb in so many different 
quarters^ current among so many different nations. 
In quoting it as of one^ it often seems as if we 
were doing wrong to many, while yet it is almost^ 
or oftener still altogether, impossible to determine 
to what nation it first belonged, so that others 
drew it at second hand from that one ; — even grant- 
ing that any form in which we now possess it is 
really its oldest of all. More than once this fact 
has occasioned a serious disappointment to the 
zealous collector of the proverbs of his native 
country. Proud of the rich treasures which in this 
kind it possessed,he has very reluctantly discovered 
on a ftdler investigation of the whole subject, how 
many of these which he counted native, the peculiar 
heirloom and glory of his own land, must at once 
and without hesitation be resigned to others, who 
can be shown beyond all doubt to have been in 
earlier possession of them : while in respect of 
many more, if his own nation can put in a claim 
to them as well as others, yet he is compelled to 
feel that it can put in no better than, oftentimes 
not so good as, many competitors.* 

^ ♦ Kelly, in the preface to his very useful collection of 
Scotch proverbs, describes his own disappointment at 
mak»g exactly auch a discovery as t\i\B. 


This single fact, which it is impossible to ques- 
tion, that nations are thus continually borrowing 
proverbs from one another, is sufficient to show 
that, however the great body of those which are 
the portion of a nation may be, some almost as old 
as itself, and some far older, it would for all this 
be a serious mistake to regard the sum of them as 
a closed account, neither capable of, nor actually re- 
ceiving, addition — a mistake of the same character 
as that sometimes made in regard to the words of 
a language. So long as a language is living, it 
will be appropriating foreign words, putting forth 
new words of its own. Exactly in the same way, 
so long as a people have any vigorous energies at 
work in them, are acquiring any new experiences 
of life, are forming any new moral convictions, for 
the new experiences and convictions new utter- 
ances will be found ; and some of the happiest of 
these will receive that stamp of general allowance 
which shall constitute them proverbs. And this 
fact makes it little likely that the collections which 
exist in print, and certainly not the earlier ones, 
will embrace all the proverbs in actual circulation. 
They preserve, indeed, many others; all those which 
have now become obsolete, and which would, but 
for them, have been forgotten ; but there are not 
a few, as I imagine, which, living on the lips of 
men, have yet never found their way into books, 
however worthy to have done so; and this, either 
because the sphere in which they circulate has 
continued always a narrow one, or that the occa- 
sions which call them out are very rare, or that 

il] unbegistered proverbs. 33 

they, having only lately risen np^ have not hitherto 
attracted the attention of any who cared to record 
them. It would be well, if such as take an interest 
in the subject, and are sufficiently well versed in 
the proverbial literature of their own country to 
recognise such unregistered proverbs when they 
meet them, would secure them from that perish- 
ing, which, so long as they remain merely oral, 
might easily overtake them ; and would make 
them at the same time, what all ^oo(/ proverbs 
ought certainly to be, the common heritage of all.* 

* The pages of the excellent Notes and Queries would 
no doubt be open to receive such, and in them they might 
be safely garnered up. That there are such proverbs to 
reward him who should carefully watch for them, is 
abundantly proved by the immense addition, which, as I 
shall have occasion hereafter to mention, a Spanish scholar 
was able to make to the collected proverbs, so numerous 
before, of Spain. Nor do there want other indications of 
the like kind. Thus,' the editor of very far the best modem 
collection of Grerman proverbs, records this one, found, as 
he affirms, in no preceding collection, and by himself 
never heard but once, and then from the lips of an aged 
lay servitor of a monastery in the Black Forest : Offend 
one monk, and the lappets of all cowls will flutter as far 
as Some; (Beleidigestu einen Miinch, so knappen alle 
Kuttenzipfel bis nach Eom ;) and yet who can doubt that 
we have a genuine proverb here, and one excellently ex- 
pressive of the common cause which the whole of the 
monastic orders, despite their inner dissensions, made ever, 
when assailed from without, with one another P It is very 
easy to be deceived in such a matter, and one must be con- 
tent often to be so ; but the following, which is current in 
Ireland, I have never seen in print : " The man on the dyke 


And as new proverbs will be born from life and 
from lifers experience, so too there will be another 
fruitful source of their further increase, namely, the 
books which the people have made heartily their 
own. Portions of these they will continually 
detach, most often word for word; at other times 
wrought up into new shapes with that freedom 
which they claim to exercise in regard of what- 
ever they thus appropriate to their own use. These, 
having detached, they will give and take as part of 
their current intellectual money. Thus '^Evil com- 
munications corrupt good manners"* (1 Cor, xv. 
33,) is word for word a metrical line from a Greek 
comedy. It is not probable that St. Paul had ever 
read this comedy, but the words for their truth^s 
sake had been taken up into the common speech of 
men; and not as a citation, but as a proverb, he uses 
them. And if you will, from this point of view, 
glance over a few pages of one of Shakespeare^s 
more popular dramas, — Hamlet, for example, — 
you will be surprised, in case your attention has 
never been called to this before, to note how much 
has in this manner been separated from it, that it 
might pass into the every day use and service of 
man ; and you will be prepared to estimate higher 

always hurls well;'* the looker-on at a game of hurling, 
seated indolently on the wall, always imagines that he 
oonld improve on the strokes of the actual players, and, 
if you will listen to him, would have played the game 
much better than they ; a proverb of sufiSciently wide 
* ^Beipovtrtv ffOfj TCPl^^* 6/*iX«u jcaxac. 


than ever what he has done for his fellow country- 
men, the *' possession for ever" which his writings 
have become for them. And much no doubt is 
passing even now from favourite authors into the 
flesh and blood of a nation^s moral and intellectual 
life ; and as '^ household words," as parts of its 
proverbial philosophy, for ever incorporating itself 
therevrith. We have a fair measure of an author^s 
true popularity, I mean of the real and lasting 
hold which he has taken on his nation^s heart, in 
the extent to which it has been thus done with 
his writings. 

There is another way in which additions are 
from time to time made to the proverbial wealth 
of a people. Some event has laid strong hold of 
their imagination, has stirred up the depths of their 
moral consciousness ; and this they have gathered 
up for themselves, perhaps in some striking phrase 
which was uttered at the moment, or in some 
allusive words, understood by everybody, and which 
at once simmion up the whole incident before their 

Sacred history furnishes us with one example 
at the least of the generation in this wise of a 
proverb. That word, *^ Is Saul also among the 
profpheis .?" is one of which we know the exact 
manner in which it grew to be a ^^proverb in Israel." 
When the son of Kish revealed of a sudden that 
nobler life which had hitherto been slumbering in 
him, alike undreamt of by himself and by others, 
took his part and place among the sons of the 


prophets, and, borne along in their enthusiasm, 
praised and prophesied as they did, showing that 
he was indeed turned into another man, then all 
that knew him beforehand said one to another, 
some probably in sincere astonishment, some in 
irony and unbelief, '* Is Saul also among the 
prophets V' And the question they asked found 
and finds its application so often as any reveals of 
a sudden, at some crisis of his life, qualities for 
which those who knew him the longest had hitherto 
given him no credit, a nobleness which had been 
latent in him until now, a power of taking his 
place among the worthiest and the best, which 
none until now had at all deemed him to possess. 
It will, of course, find equally its application, when 
one does not step truly, but only affects suddenly 
to step, into an higher school, to take his place in 
a nobler circle of life, than that in which hitherto 
he has moved. 

Another proverb, and one well known to the 
Greek scholar, TTie cranes of Ibycus,^ had its rise 
in one of those remarkable incidents, which, wit- 
nessing for God^s inscrutable judgments, are eagerly 
grasped by men. The story of its birth is indeed 
one to which so deep a moral interest is attached, 
that I shall not hesitate to repeat it, even at the 
risk that Schiller's immortal poem on the subject,, 
or it may be the classical studies of some here 
present, may have made it already familiar to a 
portion of my hearers. Ibycus, a famous lyrical 

* Al *iPvKov yipavoi. 

il] the cranes of ibycus. 87 

poet of Greece, journeying to Corinth, was assailed 
by robbers : as he fell beneath their murderous 
strokes he looked round, if any witnesses or aven- 
gers were nigh. No living thing was in sight, 
save only a flight of cranes soaring high over head. 
He called on them, and to them committed the 
avenging of his blood. A vain commission, as it 
might 'have appeared, and as no doubt it did to 
the murderers appear. Yet it was not so. For 
these, sitting a little time after in the open theatre 
at Corinth, beheld this flight of cranes hovering 
above them, and one said scoffingly to another, 
'^ Lo, there, the avengers of Ibycus V' The words 
were caught up by some near them ; for already 
the poet^s disappearance had awakened anxiety 
and alarm. Being questioned, they betrayed them- 
selves, and were led to their doom; and The cranes 
of Ibycus passed into a proverb, very much as our 
Murder will out, to express the wondrous lead- 
ings of God whereby continually the secretest 
thing of blood is brought to the open light of day. 
Gold of Toulottse^ is another of these proverbs 
in which men's sense of a God verily ruling and 
judging the earth has found its embodiment. The 
Consul Q. S. Caepio had taken the city of Tou- 
louse by an act of more than common perfidy and 
treachery ; and possessed himself of the immense 
hoards of wealth stored in the temples of the Gaulish 
deities. From this day forth he was so hunted by 

* Aurura Tolosanum ; see C. Merivale, FaU of the 
Itoman Republic, p. 63. 


calamity^ all extremest evils and disasters^ all shame 
and dishonour^ fell so thick on himself and all 
"who were his, and were so traced up by the moral 
instinct of mankind to this accursed thing which he 
had made his own, that any wicked gains^ fatal to 
their possessor, acquired this name ; and of such a 
one it would be said *^ He has gold of Toulouse/' 

Another proverb, which in English has run into 
the following posy, Therms many a slip Htvixt the 
cup and the lip, descends to us from the Greeks, 
having a very striking story connected with it : 
A master treated with extreme cruelty his slaves 
who were occupied in planting and otherwise lay- 
ing out a vineyard for him ; until at length one of 
them, the most misused, prophesied that for this his 
cruelty he should never drink of its wine. When 
the first vintage was completed, he bade this slave 
to fill a goblet for him, which taking in his hand 
he at the same time taunted him with the non- 
fulfilment of his prophecy. The other replied with 
words which have since become proverbial : as he 
spake, tidings were hastily brought of a huge wild 
boar that was wasting the vineyard. Setting 
down the untasted cup, the master went out to 
meet the wild boar, and was slain in the encoun- 
ter, and thus the proverb. Many things find place 
between the cup and lip, arose.* 

A Scotch proverb. He that invented the Maiden, 

* IloXXa fiera^v TrcXci KtikiKos Koi x^^fos oKpov. The 
Latin form of the proverb, Inter os et offam, will not 
adapt itself to this story. 

il] gnomes become provebbs. 39 

first hanselled it, is not altogether unworthy to 
rank with these. It alludes to the well-known 
historic fact that the Regent Morton^ the inventor 
of a new instrument of death called " The Maiden/' 
was himself the first upon whom the proof of it 
was made. Men felt^ to use the language of the 
Latin poet^ that ^^ no law was juster than that the 
artificers of death should perish by their own art/' 
and embodied their sense of this in the proverb. 

Memorable words of illustrious men will fre- 
quently not die in the utterance^ but pass from 
mouth to mouthy being still repeated with com- 
placency^ till at length they have received their 
adoption into the great family of national proverbs. 
Such were the gnomes or sajdngs of the Seven 
Wise Men of Greece, supposing them to have been 
indeed theirs, and not ascribed to them only after 
they had obtained universal currency and accept- 
ance. So too a saying, attributed to Alexander 
the Great, may very well have arisen on the occa- 
sion^ and under the circumstances, to which its 
birth is commonly ascribed. When some of his 
officers reported to him with something of dismay 
the innumerable multitudes of the Persian hosts 
which were advancing to assail him, the youthful 
Macedonian hero silenced them and their appre- 
hensions with the reply: One butcher does not 
fear many sheep; not in this applying an old 
proverb, but framing a new, and one admirably 
expressive of the confidence which he felt in the 
immeasurable superiority of the Hellenic over the 
barbarian man ; — and this word, having been once 


set on foot by him^ has smce lived on^ and that^ 
because the occasions wore so numerous on which 
a word like this would find its implication. 

And taking occasion firom this royal proverb^ let 
me just observe by the way^ that it would be a 
great mistake to assume^ though the error is by no 
means an uncommon one^ that because proverbs 
are popular^ they have therefore originally sprung 
jfrom the bosom of the populace. '\i\Tiat was urged 
in my first lecture of their popularity was not at 
all intended in this sense ; and the sound common 
sense, the wit, the wisdom, the right feeling, which 
are their predominant characteristics, alike con- 
tradict any such supposition. They spring rather 
firom the sound healthy kernel of the nation,whether 
in high place or in low ; and it is surely worthy of 
note, how large a proportion of those with the 
generation of which we are acquainted, owe their 
existence to the foremost men of their time, to its 
philosophers, its princes, and its kings ; as it would 
not be diflBcult to show. And indeed the evil in 
proverbs testifies to this quite as much as the good. 
Thus the many proverbs in almost all modem 
tongues expressing scorn of the " villain^^ are alone 
sufficient to show that for the most part they are 
very far from having their birth quite in the lower 
regions of society, but reflect much oftener the 
prejudices and passions of those higher in the 
social scale. 

Let me adduce another example of the proverbs 
which have thus grown out of an incident, which 
OQDtMn an allusion to it, and are only perfectly 


intelligible when the incident itself is known. It 
is this Spanish ; Let that which is lost be for God; 
one the story of whose birth is thns given by the 
leading Spanish commentator on the proverbs of 
his nation : — ^The father of a family^ making his 
will and disposing of his goods upon his death-bed^ 
ordained concerning a certain cow which had 
strayed, and had been now for a long time missings 
that^ if it were found, it should be for his children, 
if otherwise for God : and hence the proverb. Let 
that which is lost be for God, arose. The saying 
was not one to let die ; it laid bare with too fine a 
skill some of the subtlest treacheries of the human 
heart; for, indeed, whenever men would give to 
Grod only their lame and their blind, that which 
costs them nothing, that firom which they hope no 
good, no profit, no pleasure for themselves, what 
are they saying in their hearts but that which this 
man said openly. Let that which is lost be for God. 
This subject of the generation of proverbs, upon 
which I have thus touched so slightly, is yet one 
upon which whole volumes have been written. 
Those who have occupied themselves herein have 
sought to trace historically the circumstances out of 
which various proverbs have sprung, and to which 
ihey owe their existence; that so by the analogy of 
these we might realize to ourselves the rise of others 
whose origins lie out of our vision, obscure and 
unknown. No one will deny the interest of the 
subject : it cannot but be most interesting to pre- 
side thus at the birth of a saying which has lived 
on and held its ground in the world, and has not 


ceased^ from the day it was first uttered^ to be 
more or less of a spiritual or intellectual force 
among men. Still the cases where this is possible 
are exceedingly rare, as compared with the far 
greater number where the first birth is veiled, as is 
almost all birth, in mystery and obscurity. And 
indeed it could scarcely be otherwise. The great 
majority of proverbs are foundlings, the happier 
foundlings of a nation's wit, which the collective 
nation has refused to let perish, has taken up and 
adopted for its own. But still, as must be expected 
to be the case with foundlings, they can for the 
most part give no distinct account of themselves. 
They make their way, relying on their own merits, 
not on those of their parents and authors; whom 
they have forgotten ; and who seem equally to 
have forgotten them, or, at any rate, fail to claim 
them. Not seldom, too, when a story has been 
given to account for a proverb's rise, it must remain 
a question open to much doubt, whether the story 
has not been subsequently imagined for the pro- 
verb, rather than that the proverb has indeed 
sprung out of history.* 

The proverb having thus had its rise from life, 
however it may be often impossible to trace that 

* Livy's account of " Cantherium in fossa," and of the 
manner in which it became a rustic proverb in Italy, 
(23, 47,) is a case in point, where it is very hard to give 
credit to the parentage which has been assigned to the 
saying. See Poderlein's Lat. Synonyme, v. 4. p. 289. 


rise^ will continually turn back to life again ; it 
will attest its own practical character by the fre- 
quency with which it will present itself for use, and 
will have been actually used upon earnest and 
important occasions ; throwing its weight into one 
scale or the other at some critical moment, and 
sometimes with decisive effect. I have little doubt 
that with knowledge sufficient one might bring 
t(^ther a large collection of instances wherein, at 
significant moments, the proverb has played its 
part, and, it may be, very often helped to bring 
about issues, of which all would acknowledge the 

In this aspect, as having been used at a great 
critical moment, and as part of the moral influence 
brought to bear on that occasion for effecting a 
great result, no proverb of man's can be compared 
with that one which the Lord used when He met 
his future Apostle, but at this time his persecutor, 
in the way, and warned him of the firuitlessness and 
folly of a longer resistance to a might which must 
overcome him, and with stiU greater harm to him- 
self, at the last: It is hard for thee to kick against 
the pricks.* (Acts xxvi. 14.) It is not always 
observed, but yet it adds much to the fitness of 
this proverVs use on this great occasion, that it 
was already, even in that heathen world to which 
originally it belonged, predominantly used to note 
the madness of a striving on man's part against the 

* 2icXi;poy croi np6s Kcirrpa XoKri^civ. 


superior power of the gods ; for so we find it in 
the chief passages of heathen antiquity in which it 

I must take the second illustration of my asser- 
tion from a very different quarter^ passing at a 
single stride firom the kingdom of heaven to the 
kingdom of hell^ and finding my example there. 
We are told then^ that when Catherine de Medicis 
desired to overcome the hesitation of her son Charles 
the Ninths and draw from him his consent to the 
massacre^ afterwards known as that of St. Bartho- 
lomew^ she urged on him with effect a proverb 
which she had brought with her from her own land, 
and assuredly one of the most convenient maxims 
for tyrants that was ever framed : Sometimes 
clemency is cruelty, and cruelty clemency. 

Later French history supplies another and more 
agreeable illustration. Atthe si^ge of Douay, Louis 
the Fourteenth found himself with his suite un- 
expectedly under a heavy cannonade from the be- 
sieged city. I do not believe that Louis was 
deficient in personal courage, yet, in compliance 
with the entreaties of most of those around him, 
who urged that he should not expose so important 
a life, he was about, in somewhat unsoldieriy and 
unkingly fashion, immediately to retire ; when M. 

* ^schylus, From, Vinct. 322 ; Euripides, Bacch. 795 ; 
Pindar, Pyth. 2. 94 — 96. The image is of course that of 
the stubborn ox, which when urged to go forward, recal- 
citrates against the sharp-pointed iron goad, and, already 
wounded, thus only wounds itself the more. 


de Charost, drawing close to him, whispered the 
well-known French proverb in his ear : The wine 
is drawn ; it must be drunk,^ The king re- 
mained exposed to the fire of the enemy a suitable 
period, and it is said ever afterheld in higher honour 
than before the counsellor who had with this word 
saved him from an unseemly retreat. Let this on 
the generation of proverbs, with the actual em- 
ployment which has been made of them, for the 
present suffice. 

* Le vin est ver86 ; H faut le boire. 




" nPHE genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are 
J- discovered in its proverbs/^ — ^this is Lord 
Bacon^s well-worn remark ; although, indeed, only 
well-worn because of its truth. '^ In them/' it has 
been further said, " is to be found an inexhaus- 
tible source of precious documents in regard of 
the interior history, the manners, the opinions, the 
beliefs,* the customs of the people among whom 
they have had their course/'f Let us put these 

* The writer might have added, the superstitions ; for 
proverbs not a few involve and rest on popular supersti- 
tions, and a collection of these would be curious and in 
many ways instructive. Such, for instance, is the Latin, 
(it is, indeed, also Greek) : A serpent, unless it devour a 
serpent, grows not to a dragon; (Serpens, nisi serpentem 
comederit, non fit draco) ; which Lord Bacon moralizes so 
shrewdly : " The folly of one man is the fortune of another ; 
for no man prospers so suddenly as by other men's errors.'* 
Such again is the old German proverb : The night is no 
man's friend ; (Die Nacht ist keines Menschen f reund ;) 
which rests, as Grimm has so truly observed (Deutsche 
MythoL, p. 713) on the wide-spread feeling in the northern 
mythologies, of the night as an unfriendly and, indeed, 
hostile power to man. And such, too, the French : A 
Sunday's child dies never of the plague ; (Qui nait le 
dimanche, jamais ne meurt de peste.) 

t W© laay adduce further the words of Salmasius: 


assertions to the proofs and see how far in this 
people^s or in that people's proverbs, their inner- 
most heart speaks out to us ; how far the compa- 
rison of the proverbs of one nation with those of 
others may be made instryjietive to us ; what this 
comparison will tell us severally about each. This 
only I will ask, ere we enter upon the subject, 
that if I should fail here in drawing out anything 
strongly characteristic, if the proverbs regarded 
from this point of view should not seem to reveal 
to you any of the true secrets of national life, you 
will not therefore misdoubt those assertions with 
which my lecture opened ; or assume that these 
documents would not yield up their secret, if ques- 
tioned aright ; but only believe that the test has 
been unskilfully applied ; or, if you will, that my 
brief limits have not allowed me to make that 
dear, which with larger space I might not have 
wholly failed in doing. 

I am very well aware that in following upon 
this track, one is ever liable to deceive oneself, to 
impose upon others, picking out and adducing such 
proverbs as conform to a preconceived theory, 
passing over those which would militate against it. 
Quite allowing that there is such a danger which 
needs to be guarded against, and also that there 
are a multitude of these sayings which cannot be 
made to illustrate diflference, for they rest on the 

Arguto hsD brevesque loquendi formnlss suas habent ve- 
neres, et genium cujusque gentis penes quam celebrantur, 
atque acumen ostendont. 


broad foundation of the universal humanity, un- 
derlying and deeper than that which is peculiar 
and national, I am yet persuaded that enough re- 
main, and such as may with perfect good faith be 
adduced, to confirm t^ese assertions ; I am con- 
vinced that we may learn from the proverbs current 
among a people, what is nearest and dearest to 
their hearts, the aspects under which they contem- 
plate life, how honour and dishonour are distri- 
buted among them, what is of good, what of evil 
report in their eyes, with very much more which it 
can never be unprofitable to know. 

To begin, then, with the proverbs of Greece. 
That which strikes one most in the study of these, 
and which the more they are studied, the more fills 
the thoughtful student with wonder, is the evidence 
they yield of a leavening through and through of 
the entire nation with the most intimate knowledge 
of its own mythology, history, and poetry. The 
infinite multitude of slight and fine allusions to the 
legends of their gods and heroes, to the earlier 
incidents of their own history, to the Homeric nar- 
rative, the delicate side glances at all these which 
the Greek proverbs constantly embody,* assume 
an acquaintance, indeed a familiarity, with all this 
on their parts among whom they passed current, 
which almost exceeds belief. In many and most 
important respects, the Greek proverbs considered 
as a whole are inferior to those of many nations of 

* Thus 'AtBcy Kvvri — "KirhjiCTTOS iriOos, — 'tXias kokwv. 


modem Christendom. This is nothing wonderful; 
Christianity would have done little for the world, 
would have proved veryinefFectual for the elevating, 
purifying, and deepening of man^s life, if it had 
been otherwise. But, with all this, as bearing 
testimony to the high intellectual training of the 
people who employed them, to* a culture not re- 
stricted to certain classes, but which must have been 
diffused through the whole nation, no other collec- 
tion can bear the remotest comparison with this. 

It is altogether different with the Roman pro- 
verbs. These, the genuine Roman, the growth of 
their own soil, are very far fewer in number than 
the Greek, as was indeed to be expected from the 
far less subtle and less fertile genius of the people. 
Hardly any of them are legendary or mythological; 
which again agrees with the fact that the Italian 
pantheon was very scantily peopled as compared 
with the Greek. Very few have much poetry 
about them, or any very rare delicacy or refine- 
ment of feeling. In respect of love indeed, not 
the Roman only, but Greek and Roman alike, are 
immeasurably inferior to those which many mo- 
dem nations could supply. Thus a proverb of 
'such religious depth and beauty as our own, ilfar- 
riages are made in heaven, it would have been 
quite impossible for all heathen antiquity to have 
produced, or even remotely to have approached.* 

* This Greek proverb on love is the noblest of the kind 
which I remember : Movo-uc^v cpwr didao-icci, kSlvti^ afiovtrof 


In the setting out not of love, but of friendship, 
and of the claims which it makes, the blessings 
which it brings, is exhibited whatever depth and 
tenderness they may have.* This indeed, as has 
been truly observed,t was only to be expected, 
seeing how much higher an ideal of that existed 
than of this, the full realization of which was re- 
served for the modem Christian world. Yet the 
Boman proverbs are not without other substantial 
merits of their own. A vigorous moral sense 
speaks out in many; J and even when this is not 
so prominent, they wear often a thoroughly old 
Boman aspect ; being business-like and practical, 
frugal and severe, wise saws such as the eldw 
Cato must have loved, such as must have been 
often upon his lipsj§ while in the number that 
relate to farming, they bear singular witness to that 
strong and lively interest in agricultural pursuits. 

* In this respect the Latin proverb, Mores amici 
noveris, non oderis, on which Horace has furnished so ex- 
quisite a comment (Sat, i. 3, 24—93), and which finds its 
gracefnl equivalent in the Italian, Ama I'amico tuo con il 
difetto suo (Love your friend with his fault), is worthy of 
all admiration. 

t By Zell, in his slight hut graceful treatise, On the 
proverbs of the ancient Momans {Ferienschriften, v. 2, p. 

X Thus, "Noxa, caput sequitur; — Conscientia, mille 

§ He has preserved for us that very sensible and at the 
si^zie time truly characteristic one. Quod non opus est, 
asse carum est. 


which was so remarkable a feature in the old Ita- 
lian life.* 

It will not be possible to pass under even this 
hastiest review more than two or three of the 
modem families of proverbs. Let us turn first to 
the proverbs of Spain. I put these in the foremost 
rank, because the Spanish literature, poor in many 
provinces wherein other literatures are rich, is pro- 
bably richer in this province than any other in the 
world, certainly than any other in the western 
world ; and this I should be inclined to believe, 
both as respects the quantity and the quality. f 
In respect of quantity, the mere number of Spanish 
proverbs is astonishing. A collection I have been 
using while preparing these lectures, contains 
between seven and eight thousand, and yet does 
not contain all; for I have searched it in vain for 
several with which from other sources I had be- 
come acquainted. Nay, it must be very far indeed 

■* These are two or three of the most notable— the first 
ugainst "high fanning," which it is strange if it has not 
been appealed to in the modem controversy on the subject : 
I^ihil minus expedit quam agrum optime colere. (Pliny, 
JT. N., 6. 18.) Over against this, however, we must set 
4mother, warning against the attempt to farm with insuffi- 
cient capital: Oportet agrum imbecilliorem esse quam 
Agricolam ; and yet another, on the Hberal answer which 
the land will make to the pains and cost bestowed on it ; 
'Qui arat ohvetum, rogat fructum ; qui stercorat, exorat ; 
qui cffidit, cogit. 

t This was the judgment of Salmasius, who says : Inter 
EuropsBOs Hispani in his excellunt, Itali vix cedunt, Gralli 
proximo sequuntur intervallo. 

E 2 


from exhausting the entire stocky seeing that there 
exists a manuscript collection brought together by 
a distinguished Spanish scholar^ in which the pro- 
verbs have attained to the almost incredible amount 
of from five and twenty to thirty thousand.* 

And in respect of their quality, it needs only 
to call to mind some of those, so rich in humour, 
so double-shotted with homely sense, wherewith 
the Squire in Don Quixote adorns his discourse ; 
being oftentimes indeed not the fringe and border, 
but the main woof and texture of it : and then, if 
we assume that the remainder are not altogether 
unlike these, we shall, I think, feel that it would 
be difficult to rate them more highly than they 
deserve. And some are in a loftier vein; for taking, 
as we have a right to do, Cervantes himself as the 
truest exponent of the Spanish character, we 
should be prepared to trace in the proverbs of 
Spain a grave thoughtfulness, a stately humour, 
to find them breathing the very spirit of chivalry 
and honour, and indeed of freedom too ; — for in 

♦ What may have become of this collection I know 
not ; but it was formerly in Eichard Heber's Hbrary, (see 
the Catalogue, v. 9. no. 1697.) Juan Yriarte was the col- 
lector, and in a note to tho Catalogue it is stated that he 
devoted himself with such eagerness to the bringing of it 
to the highest possible state of completeness, that he would 
give his servants a fee for any new proverb they brought 
him ; while to each, as it was inserted in his list, he was 
careful to attach a memorandum of the quarter from which 
it came ; and if this was not from books but from life, an 
indication of the name, the rank, and condition in life of 
the person &om whom it was derived. 


Spain, as througHout so much of Europe^ it is 
despotism, and not freedom, whicli is new. Nor 
are we disappointed in these our expectations. 
How eminently chivalresque, for instance, the fol- 
lowing : White hands cannot hurt.* What a grave 
humour lurks in this: The ass knows well in 
whose face he brays.f What a stately apathy, 
how proud a looking of calamity in the face, speaks 
out in the admonition which this one contains : 
fFhen thou seest thine house in flames, approach 
and warm thyself by it ;% what a spirit of free- 
dom, which refuses to be encroached on even by 
the highest, is embodied in another: The king 
goes as far as he may, not as far as he would ;^ 
what Castilian pride in the following : Every lay^ 
man in Castile might muke a king, every clerk a 
pope. The Spaniard's contempt for his peninsular 
neighbours finds its emphatic utterance in another: 
Take from a Spaniard all his good qualities^ 
and there remains a Portuguese. 

We may too, I think, remark how a nation will 
occasionally in its proverbs indulge in a fine irony 
upon itself, and show that it is perfectly aware of 
its own weaknesses, follies, and faults. This the 
Spaniards must be allowed to do in their proverb, 
Succours of Spain, either late, or never. \\ How- 

* Las manoB blancas no ofenden. 

t Bien sabe el asno en cuya cara rebozna. 

i Quando vierds tu casa quemar, llega te & escalentar, 

§ El Eey va hasta do puede, y no hasta do quiere. 

jl SocorroB de Espana, 6 tarde, 6 nanca. 


ever largely and confidently promised, these suc- 
cours of Spain either do not arrive at all, or only 
arrive after the opportunity in which they could 
have served have passed away. Certainly any one 
who reads the despatches of England^s Great Cap- 
tain during the Peninsular War will find in almost 
every page of them that which abundantly justifies 
this proverb, will own that those who made it read 
themselves aright, and could not have designated 
broken pledges, unfulfilled promises of aid, tardy 
and thus ineffectual assistance, by an happier title 
than Succours of Spain. And then again what a 
fearful glimpse of those blood feuds which, having 
once begun, seem as if they could never end, blood 
touching blood, and violence evermore provoking 
its like, have we in the following : Kill, and thou 
shall be killed, and they shall kill him who kills 

The Italians also are eminently rich in proverbs ; 
and yet if ever I have been tempted to retract or 
seriously to modify what I shall have occasion by- 
and-bye to affirm in regard of a nobler life and 
spirit as predominating in proverbs, it has been 
after the study of some Italian collection. '^ The 
Italian proverbs,^' it has been said not without too 
much reason, though perhaps also with overmuch 
severity, " have taken a tinge from their deep and 
politic genius, and their wisdom seems wholly 
concentrated in their personal interests. I think 
every tenth proverb in an Italian collection is some 
cynical or some selfish maxim, a book of the world 

* Mataras, y matarte ban, y mataiki a. c^evi\ftTa».\a3tev 


for worldlings/'* Certainly many of them are 
shrewd enough^ and only too shrewd ; '^ ungra- 
cious/' inculcating an universal suspicion^ teaching 
to look everywhere for a foe, to expect, as the 
Greeks said, a scorpion under every stone, glorify- 
ing artifice and canning as the true guides and 
only safe leaders through the perplexed labyrinth 
of life,t sind altogether seeming dictated as by the 
very spirit of Machiavel himself. 

And worse than this is the glorification of re-^ 
venge which speaks out in too many of them. I 
know nothing of its kind calculated to give one a 
more shuddering sense of horror than the series- 
which might be drawn together of Italian pro- 
verbs on this matter ; especially when we take 
them with the commentary which Italian history 
supplies, and which shows them no empty words, 
but the deepest utterances of the nation's heart. 
There is no misgiving in these about the right of 
entertaining so deadly a guest in the bosom ; on 
the contrary, one of them, exalting the sweetness 
of revenge, declares. Revenue is a morsel for God,X 
There is nothing in them, (it would be far better 
if there were,) of blind and headlong passion, but 

♦ Curiosities of Literature, p. 391. London : 1838. 

t These may serve as examples : Chi ha sospetto, di 
rado d in difetto. — Fidarsi h bene, ma non fidarsid meglio. 
—Da chi mi fido, mi guardi Iddio ; da cbi non mi fido, mi 
g^oarderb io. — Con arte e con inganno si yive mezzo Tanno ; 
con inganno e con arte si vive I'altra parte. 

J Vendetta, boccon di Dio. 


lather a spirit of deliberate calculation^ which 
makes the blood run cold. Thus one gives this 
advice : Wait time and place to act thy revenge, 
for it is never well done in a hurry ;* while an- 
other proclaims an immortality of hatred^ which 
no spaces of intervening time shall have availed to 
weaken : Revenge of an hundred years old hath 
still its sucking teeth.-f We may well be thankful 
that we have in England^ at least as far as I am 
aware^ no sentiments parallel to these^ embodied as 
the permanent convictions of the national mind. 

How curious again is the confession which speaks 
out in another Italian proverb^ that the mainte- 
nance of the Romish system and the study of 
Holy Scripture cannot go together. It is this : 
With the Gospel one becomes an heretic.X No doubt 
with the study of the Word of God one does be- 
come an heretic^ in the Italian sense of the word ; 
and therefore it is only prudently done to put all 
obstacles in the way of that study, to assign three 
years* and four years* imprisonment with hard 
labour to as many as shall dare to peruse it ; yet 
certainly it is not a little remarkable that such a 
confession should have embodied itself in the 
popular utterances of the nation. 

But while it must be freely owned that the 
charges brought just now against the Italian pro- 

* Aspetta tempo e loco ^ far tua vendetta, che la non si 
fa mai ben in fretta. Compare another : Vuoi far Ven- 
detta del tuo nemico, govemati bene ed h bell' e fatta. 

t Vendetta di cent' anni ha ancor i lattaiuoli. 
} Con J'Evangelosi diventa eretico. 


verbs are sufficiently borne out by too many, they 
are not all to be included in the common shame. 
Very many there are not merely of a delicate 
refinement of beauty, as this, expressive of the 
freedom in regard of thine and mine which will 
exist between true friends : Friends tie their purses 
with a spider* s thread ;* of a subtle wisdom which 
has not degenerated into culming and deceit ; but 
also of a nobler stamp ; honour and honesty, plain 
dealing and uprightness, have here their praises 
too, and are not seldom pronounced to be in the 
end more than a match for all cunning and deceit. 
How excellent in this sense is the following : 
For an honest man half his wits is enough^ the 
whole are too little for a knave ;t the ways, that is, 
of truth and uprightness are so simple and plain, 
that a little wit is abundantly sufficient for those 
that walk in them; the ways of falsehood and fraud 
are so perplexed and tangled, that sooner or later 
all the wit of the cleverest rogue will not preserve 
him from being entangled therein. How often and 
how wonderfully has this found its confirmation 
in the lives of evil men ; so true it is, to employ 
another proverb and a very deep one from the 
same quarter, that The devil is subtle, yet weaves 
a coarse web.X 

* Gli amici legono la borsa con nn filo di ragnatelo. 

t Ad nn nomo dabbene avanza la mei^ del cervello ; ad 
on tristo non basta ne anche tutto. 

J Jeremy Taylor appears to have found much delight 
in the proverbs of Italy. In the brief foot notes which he 
has appended to the Solif Living alone I counted five and 


Again^ what description of Egypt as it now is, 
or indeed generally of the East, could set us at 
the heart of its moral condition/could make us to 
understaud all which long centuries of oppression 
and misrule have made of it and of its people, what 
could do this so effectually as the collection of 
Arabic proverbs now current in Egypt, which the 
traveller Burckhardt gathered, and which, after his 
death, were published with his name ?* In other 
books, others describe the modem Egyptians, but 
here they unconsciously describe themselves. The 
selfishness, the utter extinction of all public spirit, 
the servility, which no longer as with an inward 
shame creeps into men^s acts, but utters itself 
boldly as the avowed law of their lives, the sense 
of the oppression of the strong, of the insecurity of 
the weak, and, generally, the whole character of life, 
alike outward and inward, as poor, mean, sordid, 
and ignoble, with only a few faintest glimpses of 
that romance which one usually attaches to the 
East; all this, as we study these documents, rises up 
before us in truest, though in painfuUest, outline. 

Thus onlyin a land where rulers, being evil them- 
selves, feel all goodness to be their instinctive foe, 
and themselves therefore entertain an instinctive 
hostility to it, where they punish but never reward. 

twenty such, to which he makes more or less remote alla- 
sion in the text. There is an excellent article on " Tuscan 
Proverbs" in Fraser's Magazine, Jan. 1857. 

* Arabic Proverbs of the Modern ^Egyptians. London: 

iil] ibish proverb. 59 

where not to be noticed by them is the highest 
ambition of those under their yoke, in no other 
land could a proverb like the following, Do no 
good, and thou shalt find no evil, have ever come 
to the birth. How settled a conviction that wrong, 
and not right, was the lord paramount of the world 
must have grown up in men^s spirits, before such a 
word as this, (I know of no sadder one,) could have 
found utterance from their lips.* 

I have taken a wide circuit of nations ; with the 
proverb of a people nearer home I must bring 
this branch of the subject to an end. It is one, 
and a very characteristic one, which the poet 
Spenser, who long dwelt in Ireland, records as 
current in his time among the Irish ; in which 
were contained their oflFer of service to their native 
chiefs, with a statement of what they expected in 
return : Spend me, and defend me. Their leaders 
in all times have taken them only too well at their 
word in respect of the first half of the proverb, 
and have not failed prodigally to spend them ; 
although their undertakings to defend have issued 
exactly as must ever issue all promises on the part 
of others to defend men from those evils, from 
which none can really protect them but them- 

Other families of proverbs would each of them 

* Yet this very mournM collection of Burckhardt's 
possesses at least one very beautiful proverb on the all 
conquering power of love : Man is the slave of beneficence. 


tell its own tale, give up its own secret ; but I 
must not seek from this point of view to question 
them further. I would rather bring now to your 
notice that even where they do not spring, as they 
cannot all, from the centre of a people^s heart, nor 
declare to us the secretest things which are there, 
but dwell more on the surface of things, in this 
case also they have often local or national features, 
which to study and trace out may prove both 
curious and instructive. Of how many, for example, 
we may note the manner in which they clothe them- 
selves in an outward form and shape, borrowed 
from, or suggested by, the peculiar scenery or cir- 
cumstances or history of their own land ; so that 
they could scarcely have come into existence, not 
certainly in the shape which they now wear, any- 
where besides. Thus our own. Make hay while 
the sun shineSf is truly English, and could have 
had its birth only under such variable skies as 
ours, — ^not, at any rate, in those southern lands 
where, during the summer time at least, the sun 
always shines. In the same way there is a fine 
Cornish proverb in regard of obstinate wrongheads, 
who will take no counsel except from calamities, 
who dash themselves to pieces against obstacles, 
which with a little prudence and foresight they 
might easily have avoided. It is this : He who 
will not be ruled by the rudder ^ must be ruled by 
the rock. It sets us at once upon some rocky and 
wreck-strewn coast ; we feel that it could never 
have been the proverb of an inland people. And 

iil] gebman proverbs. 61 

this. Do not talk Arabic in the house of a Moor,* 
— ^that is, because there thy imperfect knowledge 
will bedetected atonce, — ^thiswe shotild confidently 
afi&rm to be Spanish, wherever we met it. So also 
a traveller with any experience in the composition 
of Spanish sermons and Spanish oUas could make 
no mistake in respect of the following : A sermon 
without Augustine is as a stew without bacon.f 
Thus Biff and empty, like the Heidelberg tun,X 
could have its home only in Germany ; that enor- 
mous vessel, known as the Heidelberg tun, con- 
structed to contain nearly 300,000 flasks, having 
now stood empty for hundreds of years. As regards, 
too, the following. Not every parish-priest can 
wear Dr. Luther^s shoes,^ we coidd be in no doubt 
to what people it appertains. And this. The world 
is a carcase, and they who ffather round it are 
doffSy plainly proclaims itself as belonging to those 
Eastern lands, where the unowned dogs prowling 
about the streets of a city are thenatural scavengers, 
that would assemble round a carcase thrown in the 
way. So too the form which our own proverb, 
Man^s extremity, God's opportunity, or as we 
sometimes have it. When need is hiffhest, help is 
nighest assumes among the Jews, namely this. 

* En casa del Moro no hables algorabia. 
t Sermon sin Agostino, olla sin tocino. 
X Gross nnd leer, wie das Heidelberger Fass. 
§ Doctor Lather's Schuhe sind nicht alien Dorfpriestem 


When the tale of bricks is doubled, Moses comes,* 
plainly roots itself in the early history of that 
nation^ being an allusion to Exod. v. 9 — 19^ and 
without a knowledge of that history would be 
unintelligible altogether. The same may be said 
of this : We must creep into Ebal, and leap into 
Gerizim ; in other words, we must be slow to curse, 
and swift to bless. (Deut. xxvii. 12, 13.) 

But while it is thus with some, which are bound 
by the very conditions of their existence to a narrow 
and pecuKar sphere, or at all events move more 
naturally and freely in it than elsewhere, there are 
others on the contrary which we meet all the 
world over. True cosmopolites, they seem to have 
travelled from land to land, and to have made 
themselves an home equally in all. The Greeks 
obtained them probably from the older East, and 
again imparted them to the Romans ; and from 
these they have found their way into all the 
languages of the western world. 

Much, I think, might be learned from knowing 
what those truths are, which are so felt to be true 
by all nations, that all have loved to possess them 
in these compendious forms, wherein they may 
pass readily from mouth to mouth : wh$dh, thus 
cast intp some happy form, have commended them- 
selves to almost all people, and have become a 
portion of the conmion stock of the world's wisdom, 
in every land making for themselves a recognition 
and an home. Such a proverb, for instance, is 

* Cam duplicantor lateres, Moses venit. 


Man proposes, God disposes;* one which I am 
inclined to believe that every nation in Europe 
possesses^ so deeply upon all men is impressed the 
sense of Hamlet^s words, if not the words them- 
selves : 

" There's a divinity that shapes our ends. 
Rough-hew them how we will." 

Sometimes the proverb does not actually in so 
many words repeat itself in various tongues. We 
have indeed exactly the same thought ; but it takes 
an outward shape and embodiment, varying accord- 
ing to the various countries and periods in which 
it has been current: we have proverbs totally 
diverse from one another in their form and appear- 
ance, but which yet, when we look a little deeper 
into them, prove to be at heart one and the same, 
all these their differences being thus only, so to 
speak, variations of the same air. These are almost 
always an amusing, often an instructive, study; 
and to trace this likeness in difference has an 
interest lively enough. Thus the /orww of the 
proverb, which brings out the absurdity of those 
reproving others for a defect or a sin, to whom the 
same cleaves in an equal or in a greater degree, 
have sometimes no visible connexion at all, or the 
very slightest, with one another ; yet for all this 
the proverb is at heart and essentially but one. 
We say in English: The kiln calls the oven. 

* La gente pone, y Dios dispone.— Der Mensch denkt's; 
Gott lenkf g. 


" Burnt home ;" — the Italians : The pan says to 
the pot " Keep off, or you'll smutch me /'* — ^the 
Spaniards : The raven cried to the crow, " Avaunt, 
blackamoor ;"f — ^the Germans : One ass nicknames 
another, Long -ear s;X — ^while it must be owned there 
is a certain originality in the Catalan version of 
the proverb: Death said to the man tvith his 
throat cut, " How ugly you look'* Under how 
rich a variety of forms does one and the same 
thought array itself here. 

Let me quote another illustration of the same 
fact. We probably take for granted that Coals to 
Newcastle is a thoroughly English expression of the 
absurdity of sending to a place that which already 
abounds there, water to the sea, faggots to the 
wood : — and English of course it is in the outward 
garment which it wears ; but in its innermost being 
it belongs to the whole world and to all times. 
Thus the Greeks said : Owls to Athens,^ Attica 
abounding with these birds ; the Rabbis : Enchant^ 
merits to Egypt, Egypt being of old esteemed the 
head quarters of all magic ; the Orientals : Pepper 
to Hindostan ; and in the middle ages they had 
this proverb : Indulgences to Rome, Rome being 
the centre and source of this spiritual traffic ; and 
these by no means exhaust the list. 

Let me adduce some other variations of the same 
descriptions, though not nmning through quite so 

* La padella dice al pajuolo, Eatti in \\ che tu XDi tignL 
t Dij6 la corneja al cuervo, Quitate aU&, negro. 
% Ein Esel schimpft den andern, Langohr. 
§ rXavKas €ls 'A^vas. 


many languages. Thus compare the German, Who 
lets one sit on his shoulders, shall have him pre- 
sently sit on his head,^ with the Italian, If thou 
suffer a calf to be laid on thee, tvithin a little 
they'll clap on the cow,f and, again, with the 
Spanish, Give me lohere I m^y sit down; I mil 
make where I may lie down.X They all three 
plainly contain one and the same hint that undue 
liberties are best resisted at the outset, being other- 
wise liable to be followed up by other and greater 
ones; but this under how rich and humorous a 
variety of forms. Not very different are these that 
follow. We say : Daub yourself with honey, and 
yots^U be covered with flies; the Danes: Make 
yourself an ass, and you'll have every man's sack 
on your shoulders ; while the French : Who makes 
himself a sheep, the wolf devours him ; § and the 
Persians: Be not all sugar, or the world vnll 
gulp thee dotvn ; \\ to which they add, however, as 
its necessary complement, nor yet all wormwood, 
or the world mil spit thee out. Or again, we are 
content to say without a figure : The receiver's as 
bad as the thief; but the French : He sins as much 

' * Wer sich auf der Achsel sitzen lasst, dem sitzt man 
nachher auf dem Kopfe. 

t So ti lasci metter in spalla il vitello, qnindi a poco ti 
metteran la vacca. 

;|; Dame donde me asiente, que yo harS donde me 

§ Qui se fait brebis, le lonp le mange. 

II There is a Catalan proverb to the same effect : Qui 
de tot es moll, de tot es foil. 


who holds the sack, as he who puts into it:* and 
the Germans : He who holds the ladder is as guilty 
as he who mounts the walLf We say : A stitch in 
time saves nine ; the Spaniards : Who repairs not 
his gutter, repairs his whole hou^e.X We say : 
Misfortunes never come single ; the Italians have 
no less than three proverbs to express the same 
popular conviction: Blessed is that misfortune 
which comes single ; and again : One misfortune is 
the vigil of another ; and again : A misfortune and 
a friar are seldom alone. ^ Or once more, the 
Russians say : Call a peasant, '^ Brother,^' heHl 
demand to be called, " Father /' the Italians : 
Reach a peasant your finger, h^ll grasp your 
fist,\[ Many languages have this proverb : God 
gives the cold according to the cloth ;^ it is very 
beautiful, but attains not to the tender beauty of 
our own : God tempers the wind to the shorn 

And, as in that last example, so not seldom "will 
there be an evident superiority of a proverb in 
one language over one, which however resembles it 
closely in another. Moving in the same sphere, it 

* Autant pdche celui qui tient le sac, que celui qui met 

t Wer die Leiter halt, ist so schuldig wie der Dieb. 

;|; Quien no adoba gotera, adoba casa entera. 

§ Benedetto h quel male, che vien solo. — Un mal h la 
vigilia dell* altro. — ^Un male ed un Frate di rado soli. 

II Al villano, se gli porgi il dito, ei prende la mano. 

*if Dieu donne le froid selon le. drap. — Cada cual siente 
el frio como anda vestido. 


will yet be richer, fuller, deeper. Thus our own, 
A burnt child fears the fire, is good ; but that of 
many tongues, A scalded dog fears cold water, is 
better still. Ours does but express that those who 
have suffered once will henceforward be timid in 
respect of that same thing from which they have 
suffered ; but that other the tendency to exagge- 
rate such fears, so that now they shall fear even 
where no fear is. And the fact that so it will be, 
clothes itself in an almost infinite variety of forms. 
Thus one Italian proverb says : A dog which has 
been beaten with a stick, is afraid of its shadow ; 
and another, which could only have had its birth in 
the sunny South, where the glancing but harmless 
lizard so often darts across your path : Whom 
a serpent has bitten a lizard alarms,^ With 
a little variation from this, the Jewish Rabbis had 
said long before : One bitten by a serpent, is afraid 
of a rope's end; even that which bears so remote 
a resemblance to a serpent as this does, shall now 
inspire him with terror; and the Cingalese, still 
expressing the same thought, but with imagery 
borrowed from their own tropic clime : The man 
who has received a beating from a firebrand, runs 
away at sight of a firefly. 

Some of our Lord^s sayings contain the same 
lessons which the proverbs of the Jewish Rabbis 
contained already; for He was willing to bring 
forth even from his treasury things old as well as 
new ; but it is very instructive to observe how they 

* Cui serpe mozzica, lucerta teme. 
p 2 


aeqiQje inlikBKXidiadig^iiityzDddeocHriim wluch^ 
it nunr be, dKT wasted befixe. Weaze aU&miliar 
widi that word in die Sermon cm the Mounts 
^ TfliofioeTer dall coaxpd. tbce to go a mile^ go 
widi Ixim twain.*' The Babfais had a prorerb to 
matcb^ hrelr and piq[aant enough, bat oertaiiily 
ladling thegzaTitT of diis, and which nerer could 
hare fallen from the same lips : ]^ thy neighbour 
eaU thee ius, put a paclaaddle oh thy back ; do 
not, that is, withdraw thyself firom the wrong, 
but rather go forward to meet it. Bat thus, in 
least as in greatest, it was His to make all things 

Sometimes a proverb, without changing its shape 
altogether, will yet on the lips of different nations 
be slightly modified; and these modifications, 
slight as often they are, may not the less be 
eminently characteristic. Thus in English we say, 
T/ie river past, and God forgotten, to express with 
how mournful a frequency He whose assistance 
was invoked, it may have been earnestly, in the 
moment of peril, is remembered no more, so soon 
as by his help the danger has been surmounted. 
The Spaniards have the proverb too ; but it is with 
thcrn : The river past, the saint forgotten,* the 
saints being in Spain more prominent objects of 
invocation than God. And the Italian form of it 
sounds a still sadder depth of ingratitude : The 
peril past, the saint mocked ;f the vows made to 

"(^ El rio possado, el santo okidado. 
t Paisato il p\mtO| gabbato 11 santo. 

iil] pbogress of ingratitude. 69 

him in peril remaining unperformed in safety ; 
and he treated something as, in Greek story, Juno 
was treated by Mandrabulus the Saraian ; who, 
having under her auspices and througli her di- 
rection discovered a gold mine, in his instant 
gratitude vowed to her a golden ram ; which he 
presently exchanged in intention for a silver one ; 
and again this for a very small brass one; and 
this for nothing at all ; the rapidly descending 
scale of whose gratitude, with the entire disappear- 
ance of his thank-offering, might very profitably 
live in our memories, as so perhaps it would be 
less likely to repeat itself in our lives. 



IT will be my endeavour in the three lectures 
which I have still to deliver to justify the 
attention which I have claimed on behalf of pro- 
verbs from you, not merely by appealing to the 
authority of others, who at different times have 
prized and made much of them, but by bringing 
out and setting before you, so far as I have the 
skill to do it, some of the merits and excellencies 
by which they are mainly distinguished. Their 
wit, their wisdom, their poetry, the delicacy, the 
fairness, the manliness which characterize so many 
of them, their morality, their theology, will all by 
turns come under our consideration. Yet shall I 
beware of presenting them to you as though they 
embodied these nobler qualities only. I shall not 
keep out of sight that there are proverbs, coarse, 
selfish, unjust, cowardly, profane ; "maxims" wholly 
undeserving of the honour implied by that name.* 
Still as my pleasure, and I doubt not yours, is 
rather in the wheat than in the tares, I shall, 
while I do not conceal this, prefer to dwell in the 
main on the nobler features which they present. 

* Eegulse quae inter maximas numerari merentur. 


And first, in regard of the poetry of proverbs— 
whatever is from the people, or truly/or the people, 
whatever either springs from their bosom, or 'has 
been cordially accepted by them, still more what- 
ever unites both these conditions, will have poetry, 
imagination, in it. For little as the people^s 
craving after wholesome nutriment of the imagi- 
native faculty, and after an entrance into a fairer 
and more harmonious world than that sordid and 
confused one with which often they are surrounded, 
is duly met and satisfied, still they yearn after all 
this with an honest hearty yearning, which must 
put to shame the palled indifierence, the only 
afiected enthusiasm of too many, whose oppor- 
tunities of cultivating this glorious faculty have 
been so immeasurably greater than theirs. This 
being so, and proverbs being, as we have seen, 
the sayings that have found favour with the people, 
their peculiar inheritance, we may be quite sure 
that there will be poetry, imagination, passion, in 
them. So much we might affirm beforehand; 
our closer examination of them will confirm the 
confidence which we have been bold to entertain. 

Thus we may expect to find that they will con- 
tain often bold imagery, striking comparisons ; and 
such they do. Let serve as an example our own: 
Gray hairs are death's blossoms;^ or the Italian : 
Time is an inaudible file ;t or the Greek : Man a 

* In German : Grau* Hare sind Kirchkofsblumen. 
t H tempo h una lima sorda. 


bubble ;* which Jeremy Taylor has expanded into 
such glorious poetry in the opening of the Holy 
Dying ; or that Turkish : Death is a black camel 
which kneels at every man^s gate ; to take up, that 
is, the burden of a coffin there; or this Arabic 
one, on the never satisfied eye of desire : Nothing 
but a handful of dust will fill the eye of man ; or 
another from the same quarter, worthy of Mecca's 
prophet himself, and of the earnestness with which 
he realized Gehenna, whatever else he may have 
come short in : There are no fans in hell ; or this 
other, also from the East : Hold all skirts of thy 
mantle extended, when heaven is raining gold; 
improve, that is, to the uttermost the happier crises 
of thy spiritual life ; or this Indian, to the effect 
that good should be returned for evil : The sandal 
tree perfumes the axe that fells it ; or this one, 
current in the Middle Ages : Whose life lightens^ 
his words thunder ;t or once more, this Chinese : 
Towers are measured by their shadows, and great 
men by their calumniators ; however this last may 
have somewhat of an artificial air as tried by our 
standard of the proverb. 

There may be poetry in a play upon words; and 
such we shall hardly fail to acknowledge in that 
beautiful Spanish proverb : La verdad es siempre 
verde, which I must leave in its original form ; for 
were I to translate it. The truth is always green, 

* UofKpoXv^ 6 avBpomos. 
t Cujus vita fiilgor, ejus verba tonitrua. Cf. Mark iii. 17 : 
vioi ffpovTrjs* 


its charm and chief beauty would be looked for ia 
vain. It finds its pendant and complement in 
another^ which I must also despair of adequately 
rendering : Gloria vana florece, y no grana ; 
which would express this truth, namely, that vain 
glory can shoot up into stalk and ear, but can 
never attain to the full grain in the ear. Nor can 
we, I think,refuse the title of poetry to this Eastern 
proverb, in which the wish that a woman may 
triumph over her enemies, clothes itself thus: 
May Tier enemies stumble over her hair ; — may 
she flourish so, may her hair, the outward sign of 
this prosperity, grow so rich and long, may it so 
sweep the ground, that her detractors and perse- 
cutors may be entangled by it and fall. 

And then, how exquisitely witty many proverbs 
are. Thus, not to speak of one familiar to us all, 
which is perhaps the queen of all proverbs : The 
road to hell is paved with good intentions ;* take 
this Scotch one : A man may love his house well, 
without riding on the ridge ; it is enough for a 
wise man to know what is precious to himself, 
without making himself ridiculous by evermore 
proclaiming it to the world ; or this of our own : 
When the devil is dead, he never wants a chief 
mourner ; in other words, there is no abuse so 
enormous, no evil so flagrant, but that the interests 

* Admirably glossed in the Guesses at Truth : " Pluck 
up the stones, ye sluggards, and break the devil's head 
with them." 


or passions of some will be so bound up in its con- 
tinuance that they will lament its extinction ; or 
this Italian : When rogues go in procession, the 
devil holds the cross ;* when evil men have it thus 
far their own way, then worst is best, and in the 
inverted hierarchy which is then set up, the fore- 
most in badness is foremost also in such honour as 
is going. Or consider how happily the selfishness 
and bye-ends which too often preside at men's very 
prayers are noted in this Portuguese : Cobblers 
go to mass, and j/ray that cotes may die ;f that is, 
that so leather may be cheap. Or, take another, 
a German one, noting with slightest exaggeration 
a measure of charity which is only too common : 
He will swallow an egg, and give away the shells 
in alms ; or this from the Talmud, of which I will 
leave the interpretation to yourselves : All kinds 
of wood burn silently, except thorns, which crackle 
and call out, We too are wood. 

The wit of proverbs spares few or none. They 
are, as may be supposed, especially intolerant of 
fools. We say : Fools grow without watering ; 
no need therefore of adulation or flattery, to 
quicken them to a ranker growth; for indeed 
The more you stroke the cafs tail, the more he 
raises his back ;% and the Russians : Fools are not 

* Quando i furbi vanno in processione, 11 diavolo porta 
la croce. 

t Vao a Missa Capateiros, roga6 a Decs que morra6 os 

X This is Swedish: Zu mera man stryken Katten pa 
Swanzen, zxl mera pyser pan. 


plarUed or sowed; they grow of themselves ; while 
the Spaniards : If folly were a pain, there would 
be crying in every house;* having further an 
exquisitely witty one on learned folly as the most 
intolerable of all follies : A fool, unless he know 
Latin, is never a great fooLf And here is excel- 
lently unfolded to us the secret of the fooFs confi- 
dence : Who knows nothing, doubts noihing.X 

The shafts of their pointed satire are directed 
with an admirable impartiality against men of 
every degree, so that none of us will be found to 
have wholly escaped. To pass over those, and 
they are exceedingly numerous, which are aimed 
at members of the monastic orders,§ I must fain 
hope that this Bohemian one, pointing at the 
clergy, is not true ; for it certainly argues no very 
forgiving temper on our parts in cases where we 
have been, or fancy ourselves to have been, 
wronged. It is as follows : If you have offended 
a clerk, kill him ; else you never will have peace 
with him.\\ And another proverb, worthy to take 

* Si la locura fuese dolores, en cada casa darian voces. 

t Tonto, sin saber latin, nunca es gran tonto. 

X Qui rien ne s^ait, de rien ne doute. 

§ An earnest preacher of righteousness just before the 
Iteformalion quotes this one as current about them : Quod 
agore veretur obstinatus diabolus, intrepide agit reprobus 
et contumax mouachus. 

II It is Huss who, denouncing the sins of the clergy of 
his day, has preserved this proverb for us : Malum pro- 
verbium contra nos confinxerunt, dicentes. Si offenderis 
clericum, interfice eumj alias nunquam habebis pacem 
cum illo. 


its place amoBg the best even of the Spanish, 
charges the. clergy with being the authors of the 
chiefest spiritual mischiefs which have risen up in 
the Church : By the vicar's skirts the devil climbs 
up into the belfry.^ Nor do physicians appear in 
the middle ages to have been in very high reputa- 
tion for piety; for a Latin medieval proverb boldly 
proclaims : Where there are three physicians^ 
there are two atheists.f And as for lawyers, this 
of the same period, Legista, nequista^X expresses 
itself not with such brevity only, but with such 
downright plainness of speech, that I shall excuse 
myself from attempting to render it into English. 
Nor do other sorts and conditions of men escape. 
^* The miller tolling with his golden thumb,'' has 
been often the object of malicious insinuations ; 
and of him the Germans have a proverb : What 
is bolder than a miller's neckcloth, which takes a 
thief by the throat every morning ?§ Evenhanded 
justice might perhaps require that I should find 
caps for other heads ; and it is not that such are 
wanting, nor yet out of fear lest any should be 

* Por las haldas del vicario sube el diablo al cam- 

t Ubi tree Medici, duo Athei. Of course those which 
imply that they shorten rather than prolong the term of 
life, are numerous, as for instance, the old French : Qui 
court apr^s le miere, court apr^s la bi^re. 

J In German : Juristen, bosen Christen. 

§ Bebel : Dicitur in proverbio nostro ; nihil esse auda- 
•cius indusio molitoris, cum omni tempore matutino furem 
coUo apprehendat. 


offended^ but only because I must needs hasten 
onward, that I leave this part of my subject 
without further development. 

What a fine knowledge of the human heart will 
they often display. I know not whether this 
Persian saying on the subtleties of pride is a pro- 
verb in the very strictest sense of the word, but it 
is forcibly uttered : Thou shalt sooner detect an 
ant moving in the dark night on the black earth, 
than all the motions of pride in thine heart. And 
on the wide reach of this sin the Italians say : If 
pride were as art, how many graduates we should 
have ;* and how excellent and searching is this 
word of theirs on the infinitely various shapes 
which this protean sin will assume : There are who 
despise pride with a greater pride,\ one which 
might almost seem to have been founded on the 
story of Diogenes, who, treading under his feet a 
rich carpet of Plato's, exclaimed, " Thus I trample 
on the ostentation of Plato 3" ^ With an ostentation 
of thine own,' was the other's excellent retort; — 
even as on another occasion he observed, with 
admirable wit, that he saw the pride of the Cynic 
peeping through the rents of his mantle : for in- 
deed pride can array itself quite as easily in rags 
as in purple ; can afiect squalors as earnestly as 
splendours; the lowest place and the last is of 
itself no security at all for humility; and out of a 
sense of this we very well have said : As proud go 
behind as before. 

* Se la superbia fosse arte, quanti Dottori avressimo. 
t Tal sprezza la superbia con una maggior superbia. 


Sometimes in their subtle observation of life, 
they arrive at conclusions which we would very 
willingly question or reject, but to which it is 
impossible to refuse a certain amount of assent. 
Thus it is with the very striking German proverb: 
One foe is too many ; and an hunched friends too 
few,^ There speaks out in this a sense of how 
much more active a principle in this world will 
hate be sometimes than love. The hundred friends 
will wish you well ; but the one foe will do you 
ill. Their benevolence will be ordinarily passive; 
his malevolence will be constantly active ; it will 
be animosity y or spiritedness in evil. The proverb 
will have its use, if we are stirred up by it to prove 
its assertion false, to show that, in very many cases 
at least, there is no such blot as it would set on the 
scutcheon of true friendship. In the same rank 
of unwelcome proverbs I must range this Persian 
one : Of four things every man has more than he 
knows : of sins, of debts ^ of years, and of foes; 
and this Spanish : One father can support ten 
children ; ten children cannot support one father ; 
which, in so far as it rests upon a certain ground 
of truth, suggests a painful reflection in regard of 
the less strength which there must be in the filial 
than in the paternal affection, since to the one 
those acts of self-sacrificing love are easy, which to 
the other are hard, and often impossible. But yet, 
seeing that it is the order of God's providence in the 

• Ein Feind ist zu vicl ; und hundert Freunde sind ztt 


world that fathers should in all cases support chil- 
dren, while it is the exception when children are 
called to support parents, one can only admire 
that wisdom which has made the instincts of 
natural affection to run rather in the descending 
than in the ascending line ; a wisdom to which 
this proverb, though with a certain exaggeration 
of the facts, bears witness. 

How exquisitely delicate is the touch of this 
French proverb : It is easy to go afoot , when one 
leads one^s horse by the bridle,^ How fine and 
subtle an insight into the inner workings of the 
human heart is here ; how many cheap humilities 
are here set at their true worth. It is easy to 
stoop from state, when that state may be resumed 
at will ; easy for one to part with luxuries and 
indulgences, which he only parts with exactly so 
long as it may please himself. No reason indeed 
is to be found in this comparative easiness for the 
not ' going afoot ;^ on the contrary, it may be to 
him a most profitable exercise ; but every reason 
for not esteeming the doing so too highly, nor 
setting it on a level with the trudging upon foot 
of him, who has no horse to fall back on at what- 
ever moment he may please. 

There is, and always must be, some rough work 
to be done in the world; work which, though 
rough, is not therefore in the least ignoble ; and 
the schemes, so daintily conceived, of a luxurious 

* H est ai86 d'aller ii pied, qaand on tient son eheval 
par la bride» 


society, which repose on a tacit assumption that 
nobody shall have to do this work, are touched 
with a fine irony in this Arabic proverb : If I am 
master, and thou art master, who shall drive the 
asses ? * 

Again, how clever is the satire of the following 
Hay tian proverb, which, however, I must introduce 
with a little preliminary explanation. It was one 
current among the slave population of St. Do- 
mingo, and with it they ridiculed the ambition and 
pretension of the mulatto race immediately above 
them. These, in imitation of the French planters, 
must have their duels too — duels, however, which 
had nothing earnest or serious about them, in- 
variably ending in a reconciliation and a feast, the 
kids which furnished the latter being in fact the 
only sufferers, their blood that which alone was 
shed. All this the proverb uttered: Mulattoes 
fight, kids die.f 

And proverbs, witty in themselves, often become 
wittier still in their application, like gems that 
acquire new brilliancy from their setting, or from 
some novel light in which they are held. No writer 
that I know of has an happier skill in thus adding 
wit to the witty than Fuller, the Church historian. 
Let me confirm this assertion by one or two 
examples drawn from his writings. He is de- 

* The Gallegan proverb, You a lady, la lady, who shall 
drive the hogs a-field ? (Vos dona, yo dona, quen botara 
a porca fora ?) is only a variation of this. 

f Mulates qua batten t, cabrites qua morts. 

IV.] fuller's use op proverbs. 81 

scribing the indignation, the outcries, the remon- 
strances, which the thousandfold extortions, the 
intolerable exactions of the Papal See gave birth 
to in England during the reigns of such subservient 
kings as our Third Henry ; yet he will not have 
his readers to suppose that the Popes fared a whit 
the worse for all this outcry which was raised 
against them; not so, for The fox thrives best when 
he is most cursed ;* the very loudnessof the clamour 
was itself rather an evidence how well they were 
faring. Or again, he is telling of that Duke of 
Buckingham, well known to us through Shake- 
speare's Richard the Third, who, having helped 
the tyrant to a throne, afterwards took mortal dis- 
pleasure against him ; this displeasure he sought 
to hide, till a season arrived for showing it with 
effect, in the deep of his heart, but in vain ; for, 
as Puller observes. It is hard to halt before a 
cripple ; the arch-hypocrite Richard, he to whom 
dissembling was as a second nature, saw through 
and detected at once the shallow Buckingham's 
clumsier deceit. And the Church History abounds 
with similar happy applications. Puller, indeed, 
possesses so much of the wit out of which proverbs 
spring, that it is not seldom difficult to tell whether 
he is adducing a proverb, or uttering some proverb- 
like saying of his own. Thus, I cannot remember 
ever to have met any of the following, which yet 

* A proverb of many tongues beside our own : thus in 
the Italian ^ Qaanto piii la volpe h maladetta, tanto maggior 
preda fa. 


%2 JUEUU nc or nHiTixBs. [lbct. 

Eke ygUitaUt — de fait on uniitwfc as pre- 
feeiUe to m fidlovdbip : Aflor riJe mkme than 
JuKemOaefs om^maaf;* die second igaiiistoertaiii 
vbo iJi fpar jjged ooe wbose nrrllmfic s t2ieT would 
YoBwe baai. it ferr difBroh to imikate : They who 
e&mpUnm thai Grmtdhmm tUeple sUmds awry, will 
not set a strmghitr by ii,^ amd in tins he warns 
j^gaiDSt despisiiig in anr die tokens ci honourable 
toA : Mock not a coMtr for kis Uadt thttmbs.X 

But the g^ofr ci pforerbsy thai, ^eAaps, which 
strikes US most often and most tordbij in i^ard 
of them^ is their shrewd oommcm sense, the sound 
wisdom for the management of our own liTes^ and 
of onr intercourse with our fellows, which so many 
of them contain. In truth, there is no r^on of 
practical life which they do not occupy, for which 
they do not supply some wise hints and counsels 
and warnings. There is hardly a mistake whidi in 
the course of our lives we have committed, but 
some proverb, had we known and attended to its 
lesson, might have saved us from it. ^^ Adages,^' 
indeed, according to the more probable etymology 
of that word, they are, apt for action and use.§ 

Thus, how many of these popular sayings and 
what good ones there are on the wisdom of govern-' 
ing the tongue, — I speak not now of those urging 
the duty, though such are by no means wanting, — 

• Sol^ State, b. 3, c. 6. 
t B. 2, c. 23. t B. 3, c. 2. 

§ Adagia, ad agendum apta ; this is the etymology of 
i4^^Trc>rd ^ren by Festus. 


but the wisdom, prudence, and profit of knowing 
how to keep silence as well as how to speak. The 
Persian, perhaps, is familiar to many : Speech is 
silvern, silence is golden; with which we may 
compare the Italian; Who speaks, sows; who 
keeps silence, reaps ;^ and on the safety that is in 
silence, I know none happier than another from 
the same quarter, and one most truly characteristic 
of Italian caution : Silence was never written 
donm ; t while, on the other hand, we are excellently 
warned of the irrevocableness of the word which 
has once gone from us in this Eastern proverb : Of 
thine unspoken word thou art master ; thy spoken 
word is master of thee ; even as the same is set 
out elsewhere by many striking comparisons ; it is 
the arrow from the bow, the stone from the sling; 
and, once launched, can as little be recalled as 
these-t Our own. He who says what he likes, shall 
hear what he does not like, gives a further motive 
for self-government in speech ; while this Spanish 
is in an higher strain : The evil which issues from 
thy mouth falls into thy bosom.^ Nor is it enough 
to abstain ourselves from all such words ; we must 
not make ourselves partakers in those of others ; 
which it is only too easy to do ; for, as the Chinese 

* Chi parla semina, clii tace raccoglie; compare the 
Swedish : Battre tyga au ilia tala (Better silence than ill 

+ II tacer non fa mai scritto. 

j Palabra de boca, piedra de honda. — ^Palabra y piedra 
auelta no tiene vuelta. 

§ El mal que de tu boca sale, en ta seno se cae. ^ 


have said very well: He who laughs at an imperiu 
nence, makes himself its accomplice. 

And then, in proverbs not a few what profitable 
warnings have we against the firuits of evil com- 
panionship, as in that homely one of our own : 
He that lies dovm with dogs shall rise up with 
fleas ; * or, again, in the old Hebrew one : Two dry 
sticks will set on fire one green ; or, in another 
from the East, which has to do with the same 
theme, and plainly shows whither such companion- 
ship will lead : He that takes the raven for a guide, 
shall light upon carrion. 

What warnings do many contain against un- 
reasonable expectations, against a looking for per- 
fection in a world of imperfection, and generally a 
demanding of more from life than life can yield. 
We note very well the folly of one addicted to this, 
saying : He eapects better bread than can be made 
of wheat ; and the Portuguese : He that will have 
an horse without fault, let him go afoot; and the 
French : Where the goat is tied, there she must 
browse.f Again, what a good word of caution in 
respect of the wisdom of considering oftentimes a 
step which, being once taken, is taken for ever, lies 
in the following Russian proverb: Measure thy 
cloth ten times ; thou canst cut it but once. And 
in this Spanish the final issues of procrastination 
are well set forth : By the street of " By-and-bye^' 
one arrives at the house of " Never, '^X In how 

* Quien con perros se echa, con pulgas se levanta. 
t La on la ch^vre est attach^e, il faut qu'elle bronte, 
i Par la calle de despuea se \a ai\^ (^t\a«k de nunca. 


pleasant a way discretion in avoiding all appearance 
of evil is urged in the following Chinese : In a 
field of melons tie not thy shoe ; under a plum^ 
tree adjust not thy cap. And this Danish warns 
US well against relying too much on other men's 
silence^ since there is no rarer gift than the capacity 
of keeping a secret : Tell nothing to thy friend 
which thine enemy may not know. Here is a 
word which we owe to Italy, and which, laid to 
heart, might keep men out of law-suits, or, being in 
them, from refusing to accept tolerable terms of 
accommodation: The robes of lawyers are lined 
with the obstinacy of suitors.^ Other words of 
wisdom and warning, for so I must esteem them, 
are these ; this, on the danger of being overset by 
prosperity : Everything may be borne, except good 
fortune ;t with which may be compared our own : 
Bear wealth, poverty will bear itself; and another 
Italian which says : In prosperity no altars smoke.X 
This is on the disgrace which will sooner or later 
follow upon dressing ourselves out in intellectual 
finery that does not belong to us : Who arrays 
himself in other men^s garments, is stripped in 
the middle of the street ;§ he is detected and laid 
bare when and where detection is most shameful. • 
Of the same miscellaneous character, and de- 

* Le vesti degl* awocati sono fodrate dell* ostinazion dei 

t Ogni cosa si sopporfca, eccetto il buoa tempo. 

;j; Nella prosperita noQ fumano gl' altari. 

§ Quien con ropa agena se viste, en la calle se queda 


rived from quarters the most diverse, but all of 
them of an excellent sense or shrewdness, are the 
following. This is from Italy : Who sees not the 
bottom, let him not pass the water. ^ This is current 
among the free blacks of Hayti : Before fording 
the river, do not curse Mrs. Alligator :f provoke 
not wantonly those in whose power you presently 
may be. This is Spanish : Call me not " olive/^ 
till you see me gathered ;{ being nearly parallel 
to our own : Praise a fair day at night ; and 
this French : Take the first advice of a woman, 
and not the second;^ a proverb of much wisdom; 
for in processes of reasoning, out of which the 
second counsels would spring, women may and will 
be, inferior to us ; but in intuitions, in moral in- 
tuitions above all, they surpass us far ; they have 
what Montaigne ascribes to them in a remarkable 
word, ^' Vesi^ritprimesautier," the leopard's spring, 
which takes its prey, if it be to take it at all, at 
the first bound. 

And I cannot but think that for as many as are 
seeking diligently to improve their time and oppor- 
tunities of knowledge, with at the same time little 

* Chi non vede il fondo, non passi Tacqua, 

t Avant traverse rivier, pas jurd maman caiman. This- 
and one or two other Haytian proverbs quoted in this 
volume I have derived from a curious article, l^s mosurs 
et la littSrature nSgres, by Gustave D'Alaux, in the Bevue 
des deux Mondes, Mai 15"«, 1852, 

X No me digas oliva, hasta que me veas cogida. 

§ Prends le premier conseil d'une femme, et non le- 


of either which they can call their own, a very 
useful hint and warning against an error which lies 
very near, is contained in the little Latin proverb : 
Compendia, dispendia. Nor indeed for them only, 
but for all, and in numberless respects it oftenproves 
true that a short cut may be a very long way home ; 
yet the proverb can never be applied better than to 
those little catechisms of science, those skeleton 
outlines of history, those epitomes of all useful in- 
formation, those thousand delusive short cuts to the 
attainment of that knowledge, which can indeed 
only be acquired by them that are content to travel 
on the king^s highway, on the old, and as I must 
still call it, the royal road of patience, perseverance, 
and toil. Surely these compendia, so meagre and 
so hungry, with little food for the intellect, with 
less for the aflFections, we may style with fullest 
right dispendia, wasteful as they generally prove 
of whatever time and labour and money is bestowed 
upon them ; and every wise man will set his seal 
to this word, as wisely as it is grandly spoken : 
" All spacious minds, attended with the felicities 
of means and leisure, will fly abridgements as bane.^' 
And being on the subject of books and the choice 
of books, let me put before you a proverb, and in 
this reading age a very serious one ; it comes to us 
from Italy, and it says : There is no worse robber 
than a bad book.^ Indeed, none worse, nor so bad ; 
other robbers may spoil us of our money ; but this 
robber of our " goods'' — of our time at any rate. 

Non V* ^ il peggior ladro d'nn cattivo libro. 


even assuming the book to be only negatively bad ; 
but of how much more, of our principles, our faith, 
our purity of heart, supposing its badness to be 
positive, and not negative only. And one more on 
books may fitly find place here : Dead men open 
living men^s eyes ; at least I take it to be such; 
and to contain implicitly the praise of history, and 
an announcement of the instruction which it will 
yield us.* 

Here are one or two prudent words on educa- 
tion. A child may have too much of its mother's 
blessing ; yes, for that blessing may be no blessing, 
but rather a curse, if it take the shape of foolish 
and fond indulgence ; and in the same strain is this 
German : Better the child weep than the father,^ 
And this, like many others, is found in so many 
tongues, that it cannot be ascribed to one rather 
than another : More springs in the garden than the 
gardener ever sowed.X It is a proverb for many, 
but most of all for parents and teachers, that they 
lap not themselves in a false dream of security, as 
though nothing was at work or growing in the 
minds of the young in their guardianship, but what 
they themselves had sown there, as though there 
was not another who might very well have sown 
his tares beside and among any good seed of their 
sowing. At the same time the proverb has also its 
happier side. There may be, there often are, better 

* Los muertos abren los ojos a los vivos. 

t Es ist besser, das Kind weine denn der Vater. 

X Nace en la huerta lo que no siembra el Lortelano. 

IV.] gold's worth is gold. 89 

things also in this garden than ever the earthly- 
gardener set there, seeds of the more immediate 
sowing of God. la either of its aspects this 
proverb is one deserving to be laid to heart. 

Proverbs will sometimes outrun and implicitly 
anticipate conclusions, which are only after long 
struggles and eflbrts arrived at as the formal and 
undoubted conviction of all thoughtful men. After 
how long a conflict has that been established as a 
maxim in political economy, which the brief Italian 
proverb long ago announced : Gold's worth is ffold,* 
What millions upon millions of national wealth 
have been as much lost as if they had been thrown 
into the sea, from the inability of those who have 
had the destinies of nations in their hands to grasp 
this simple proposition, that everything which could 
purchase money, or which money would fain pur- 
chase, was as really wealth as the money itself. 
What forcing of national industries into unnatural 
channels has resulted from this, what mischievous 
restrictions in the buying and selling of one people 
with another. Nay, can the truth which this 
proverb aflBrms be said even now to be accepted 
without gainsaying — so long as the talk about the 
balance of trade being in favour of or against a 
nation, as the fear of draining a country of its gold, 
still survive? 

Here is a proverb of many tongues: One sword 

* Oro ^, clie oro vale ; — and of the multitudes that are 
rushing to the Australian gold-fields, some may find this 
also true : Pid vale guadagnar in loto che perder in oro. 


keeps another in its scabbard;^ — surely a far wiser 
and far manlier word than the puling yet mis- 
chievous babble of our shallow Peace Societies, 
which, while they fancy that they embody, and 
they only embody, the true spirit of Christianity, 
proclaim themselves in fact ignorant of all which it 
teaches ; for they dream of having peace the fruit, 
while at the same time the root of bitterness out of 
which have grown all the wars and fightings that 
have ever been in the world, namely the lusts which 
stir in men's members, remain strong and vigorous 
as ever. But no ; it is not they that are the peace- 
makers : in the face of an evil world, and of a world 
determined to continue in its evil. He who bears 
the sword, and though he fain would not, yet knows 
how, if need be, to wield it, he bears peace.f 

One of the most remarkable features of a good 
proverb is the singular variety of applications which 
it will admit, which indeed it challenges and in- 
vites. Not lying on the surface of things, but going 
deep down to their heart, it will be found capable 
of being applied again and again, under circum- 
stances the most different ; like the gift of which 
Solomon spake, '^whithersoever it turneth, it pros- 
pereth ;'^ or like a diamond cut and polished upon 
many sides, which reflects and refracts the light 
upon every one. There can be no greater mistake 
than the attempt to tie it down and restrict it to a 
single application, when indeed the very character 

* Una spada tien 1' altra nel fodro. 
t Qui porte ^pee, porte paix. 


of it is that it is ever finding or making new one& 
for itself. 

It is nothing strange that with words of Eternal 
Wisdom this should be so, and in respect of them 
my assertion cannot need a proof. I will, notwith- 
standing, adduce as a first confirmation of it a 
scriptural proverb, one which fell from the Lord^s 
lips in his last prophecies about Jerusalem: 
Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be 
gathered together ; (Matt. xxiv. 28 ;) and which 
probably He had taken up from Job. (xxxix. 30.) 
Who would venture to say that he had exhausted 
the meaning of this wonderful saying ? For is it 
not properly inexhaustible ? All history is a com- 
ment on these words. Wherever there is a Church 
or a people abandoned by the spirit of life, and so 
a carcase, tainting the atmosphere of God's moral 
world, around it assemble the ministers and mes- 
sengers of Divine justice, *^ the eagles,''(or vultures 
more strictly, for the true eagle does not feed on 
aught but what itself has slain,) the scavengers of 
God's moral world; scenting out as by a mysterious 
instinct the prey from afar, and charged to remove 
presently the ofience out of the way. This proverb, 
for the saying has passed upon the lips of men, and 
thus has become such, is being fulfilled evermore. 
The wicked Canaanites were the carcase, when the 
children of Israel entered into their land, the com- 
missioned eagles that should remove them out of 
sight. At a later day the Jews were themselves 
the carcase, and the Romans the eagles; and when 
in the progress of decay, the Roman empire had 


quite lost the spirit of life, and those virtues of the 
family and the nation which had deservedly made 
it great, the northern tribes, the eagles now, came 
down upon it, to tear it limb from limb, and make 
room for a new creation that should grow up in its 
stead. Again, the Persian empire was the carcase; 
Alexander and his Macedonian hosts, the eagles 
that by unerring instinct gathered round it to com- 
plete its doom. The Greek Church in the seventh 
century was too nearly a carcase to escape the 
destiny of such, and the armies of Islam scented 
their prey, and divided it among them. In modern 
times Poland was, I fear, such a carcase ; and this 
one may aflSrm without in the least extenuating 
their guilt who partitioned it ; for it might have 
been just for it to suffer, what yet it was most un- 
righteous for others to inflict. Nay, where do you 
not find an illustration of this proverb, from such 
instances on the largest scale as these, down to 
that of the silly and profligate heir, surrounded by 
sharpers and black-legs, and preyed on by these ? 
Everywhere it is true that Wheresoever the carcase 
is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 

Or, again, consider such a proverb as the short 
but well-known one : Extremes meet. Short as it 
is, it is yet a motto on which whole volumes might 
be written, which is finding its illustration every 
day, — ^in small and in great, — in things trivial and 
in things most important, — in the histories of single 
men, and in those of nations and of Churches. 
Consider some of its every-day fulfilments, — old 
age ending in second childhood, — cold performing 


the effects of heat, and scorching as heat would 
have done, — the extremities alike of joy and of 
grief finding utterance in tears, — that which is 
above all value declared to have no value at all, 
to be '^ invaluable," — the second singular *' thou'* 
instead of the plural *' you," employed in so many 
languages to inferiors and to God, never to equals ; 
just as servants and children are alike called by 
the Christian name, but not those who stand in 
the midway of intimacy between them. Or to 
take some further illustrations from the moral 
world, of extremes meeting; observe how often 
those who begin their lives as spendthrifts end 
them as misers ; how often the flatterer and the 
calumniator meet in the same person : out of a 
sense of which the Italians say well : Who paints 
me before, blackens me behind;^ observe how those 
who yesterday would have sacrificed to Paul as a 
god, will to-day stone him as a malefactor ; (Acts 
xiv. 18, 19; cf. xxviii. 4 — 6;) even as Roman em- 
perors would one day have blasphemous honours 
paid to them by the populace, and the next their 
bodies would be dragged by a hook through the 
streets of the city, to be flung into the common 
sewer. Or note again in what close alliance hard- 
ness and softness, cruelty and self-indulgence ("lust 
hard by hate'^), are continually found ; or in law. 

* Chi dinanzi mi pinge, di dietro mi tinge. The history 
of the word " sycophant," and the manner in which it has 
.travelled from its original to its present meaning, is a very 
striking confirmation of this proverb's truth. 

54j poetry etc. op proverbs. [lect. 

how the swfnm/umjus, where unredressed by equity, 
becomes the summa injuria, as in the case of 
Shylock's pound of flesh, which was indeed no 
more than was in the bond. Or observe on a 
greater scale, as lately in France, how a wild and 
lawless democracy may be transformed by the 
base trick of a conjuror into an atrocious military 
tyranny.* Or read thoughtfully the history of the 
Church and of the sects, and you will not fail to 
note what things apparently the most remote are 
yet in the most fearful proximity with one another : 
liow often, for example, a false asceticism has issued 
in frantic outbreaks of fleshly lusts, and those who 
avowed themselves at one time ambitious to live 
lives above men, have ended in living lives below 
beasts. Again, take note of England at the 
Eestoration exchanging all m a moment the sour 
strictness of the Puritans rop' a licence and de- 
bauchery unknown to it befo^. Or, once more, 
consider the exactly similar .position in respect of 
Scripture, taken up by the -PiOmanists on the one 
side, the Quakers aniJ Familists on the other. 
Seeming, and in much being, so remote from one 
another, they yet have this fundamental in common, 
that Scripture, insufficient in itself, needs a supple- 
ment from without, those finding it in a Pope, and 
these in the " inward light.^^f With these examples 

* How and why it is that extremes here meet, and what 
are the inner affinities between a democracy and a tyranny, 
Plato has wonderfully traced, Bep,, ii. p. 217, 

t See Jeremy Taylor's Dissuasive from Topery, part 2, 
& 1. Beet 11, § 6. 


before you, not to speak of the many others which 
might be adduced,* you will own, I think, that this 
proverb, Extremes meet, or its parallel, Too far 
East is West, reaches very far into the heart of 
things; and with this for the present I must 

* " Extremes meet. Truths, of all others the most awful 
and interesting, are too often considered as so true, that 
they lose all the power of truths, and lie bed-ridden in 
the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most 
despised and exploded errors." — Colebidgb, Aids to Re^ 




THE morality of proverbs is a subject which I 
have not been able to leave wholly untouched 
until now, for of necessity it has offered itself to us 
continually, in one shape or another ; yet hitherto 
I have not regularly dealt with or considered it. 
To it I propose to devote the present lecture. But 
how, it may be asked at the outset, can any general 
verdict be pronounced about them ? In a family 
like theirs, spread so widely over the face of the 
earth, must there not be found worthy members 
and unworthy, proverbs noble and base, holy and 
profane, heavenly and earthly ; — yea, heavenly, 
earthly, and devilish? What common judgment 
of praise or censure can be pronounced upon all of 
these ? Evidently none. The only question, there- 
fore, for our consideration must be, whether there 
exists any such large and unquestionable prepon- 
derance either of the better sort or of the worse, as 
shall give us a right to pronounce a judgment on 
the whole in their favour or against them, to affirm 
of them that their preponderating influence and 
weight is thrown into the balance of the good or of 
the evil. 

And here I am persuaded that no one can have 


devoted any serious attention to this aspect of the 
subject, but will own, (and seeing how greatly 
popular morals are aflTected by popular proverbs,, 
will own with thankfulness,) that, if not without 
serious exceptions, yet still in the main they range 
themselves under the banners of the right and of 
the truth ; he will allow that of so many as move 
in an ethical sphere at all, very far more are 
children of light and the day than of darkness 
and night. Indeed, the comparative paucity of 
unworthy proverbs is a very noticeable fact, and 
one to the causes of which I shall have presently 
to recur. 

At the same time, when I affirm this, I find it 
necessary to make certain explanations, to draw 
certain distinctions. In the first place, I would 
not, by what I have said, in the least deny that an 
ample number of coarse proverbs are extant : it 
needs but to turn over a page or two of Ray'a 
Collection of English Proverbs, or of HowelPs, or 
indeed of any collection in any tongue, which has 
not been weeded carefully, to convince oneself of 
the fact ; — nor yet would I deny, that of these 
many may, more or less, live upon the lips of men. 
Having their birth, for the most part, in a period 
of a nation's literature and life, when men are 
much more plain-spoken, and have far fewer 
reticences than is afterwards the case, it is nothing^ 
strange that some of them, employing words for- 
bidden now, but not forbidden then, should sound 
coarse and indelicate enough in our ears : whil,e 
indeed there are others, whose offence and 



ness these considerations, while they may mitigate, 
are quite insufficient to excuse. But at the same 
time, gross words and images, (I speak not of 
wanton ones,) bad as they may be, are altogether 
different from immoral maxims and rules of life. 
And it is these immoral maxims, unrighteous, 
selfish, or otherwise unworthy rules, of which I 
would affirm the number to be, if not absolutely, 
yet relatively small. 

And then further, in estimating the morality of 
proverbs, this also will claim in justice not to be 
foi^otten. In the same manner as coarse proverbs 
are not necessarily immoral, so the application 
which is made of a proverb by us may very often 
be hardhearted and selfish, while yet the proverb 
itself is very far from so being. This selfishness 
and hardness lay not in it of primary intention, 
but only by our abuse ; and in the cases of several, 
these two things, the proverb itself, and the ordi- 
nary employment of it, will demand to be kept 
carefully apart from one another. For instance : 
He has made his bed, and now he must lie on it ; 
— As he has brewed, so he must drink ; — As he 
has sovMy so must he reap ;* — ^if these are 
employed to justify us in refusing to save others, 
so far as we may, from the consequences of their 
own folly, or imprudence, or even guilt, why then 
one can only say that they are very ill employed ; 

* They have for tlieir Latin equivalents such as these; 
Colo quod aptasti, ipsi tibi nendum est. — Qui vinum bibit, 
fwcem bibat— Ut sementem feceris, ita metes. 


and there are few of us with whom it would not 
have gone hardly, had all those about us acted in 
the spirit of these proverbs so misinterpreted ; had 
they refused to mitigate for us, so far as they could, 
the consequences of our errors. But if the words 
are taken in their true sense, as homely announce- 
ments of that law of divine retaliations in the 
world, according to which men shall eat of the 
fruit of their own doings, and be filled with their 
own ways, who shall gainsay them ? What affirm 
they more than every page of Scripture, every turn 
of human life, is affirming too, namely, that the 
everlasting order of God^s universe cannot be vio- 
lated with impunity, that there is a continual 
returning upon men of what they have done, and 
that in their history we may read their judgment ? 
Charity begins at homey is the most obvious and 
familiar of these proverbs, selfishly abused. It may 
be, no doubt it often is, made the plea for a selfish 
withholding of assistance from all but a few, whom 
men may include in their *'at home,^' while some- 
times the proverb receives a narrower interpretation 
still ; and self, and self only, is accounted to be 
*' at home." And yet, in truth, what were that 
•charity worth, which did not begin at home, which 
did not preserve the divine order and proportion 
and degree ? It is not for nothing that we have 
been grouped in families, neighbourhoods, and 
nations ; and he who will not recognise the divinely 
appointed nearnesses to himself of some over others, 
who thinks to be a cosmopolite without being a 
patriot, a philanthropist without owning a distin- 


guishing love for them that are peculiarly ^'his 
own/^ who would thus have a circumference without 
a centre, deceives his own heart ; and affirming all 
men, to be equally dear to him, is indeed affirming 
them to be equally indifferent. Home, the family, 
this is as the hearth at which the affections which 
are afterwards to go forth and warm in a larger 
circle, are themselves to be kept lively and warm ; 
and the charity which did not exercise itself in 
outcomings of kindness and love in the narrower, 
would be little likely to seek a wider range for 
itself. Wherever else it may end, and the larger 
the sphere which it makes for itself the better, it 
must yet begin at home.*. 

There are, again, proverbs which, from another 
point of view, might seem of an ignoble cast, and 
as calculated to lower the tone of morality among 
those who received them ; proposing as they do 
secondary, and therefore unworthy, motives to 
actions, which ought to be performed out of the 
highest. I mean such as this : Honesty is the best 
policy; wherein honesty is commended, not because 
it is right, but because it is most prudent and 
politic, and has the promise of this present world. 
Now doubtless there are proverbs not a few which, 
like this, move in the region of what has been by 

* In respect of other proverbs, such as the following. 
Tunica pallio propior ;— Frons occipitio prior; I have 
greater doubt. The misuse lies nearer; the selfishness 
may very probably be in the proverb itself, and not in our 
application of it ; though even these seem not incapable of 
a fair iuterpretation. 


Coleridge so well called "prudential morality;" and 
did we accept them as containing the whole circle 
of motives to honesty or other right conduct, nothing 
could be worse, or more fitted to lower the moral 
standard of our lives. He who resolves to be 
honest because, and only because, it is the best 
policy, will be little likely long to continue honest 
at all. But the proverb does not pretend to usurp 
the place of an ethical rule ; it does not presume to 
cast down the higher law which should determine 
to honesty and uprightness, that it may put itself 
in its place ; it only declares that honesty, let alone 
that it is the right thing, is also, even for this pre- 
sent world, the wisest. Nor dare we, let me further 
add, despise prudential morality, such as is embodied 
in sayings like this. The motives which it suggests 
are helps to a weak and tempted virtue, may prove 
great assistances to it in some passing moment of 
ii violent temptation, however little they can be 
regarded as able to make men for a continuance 
even outwardly upright and just. 

And once more, proverbs are not to be accounted 
selfish, which announce selfishness ; unless they do 
it, either avowedly recommending it as a rule and 
maxim of life, or, if not so, yet with an evident 
complacency and satisfaction in the announcement 
which they make, and in this more covert and 
perhaps still more mischievous way, taking part 
with the evil which they proclaim. There are a 
great many proverbs, which a lover of his race 
would be very thankful if there had been nothing 
in the world to justify or to provoke ; for the con- 


victions they embody, the experiences on "which 
they rest must be regarded as very far from com- 
plimentary to human nature : but seeing they 
express that which is, however we might desire it 
were not, it would be idle to wish them away, to 
wish that this evil had not found its utterance. 
Nay, it is much better that it should so have done ; 
for thus taking form and shape, and being brought 
directly under notice, it may be better watched 
against and avoided. Such proverbs, not selfish, 
but rather detecting selfishness and laying it bare, 
are the following ; this Russian, on the only too 
slight degree in which we are touched with other 
men^s troubles: The burden is light on the 
shoulders of another ; with which the French may 
be compared : One has always enough strength to 
bear the misfortunes of one^s friends.* Such is 
this Italian : Every one draws the water to his own 
mill ;t or as it appears in its eastern shape, which 
brings up the desert-bivouack before one's eyes : 
Every one rakes the embers to his oum cake. Such 
this Latin, on the comparative wastefulness where- 
with that which is another's is too often used: 
Men cut broad thongs from other men's leather ;% 
with many more of the same character, which it 
would be only too easy to bring together. 

* On a toujours asaez do force pour supporter le mal- 
heur de ses amis. I confess this sounds to me rather like 
an imitation of Eochefoucault than a genuine proverb.. 

t Ognun tira 1' acqua al suo molino. 

i Ex alieno tergore lata secantur lora. 


With all this, I would not of course in the least 
deny that immoral proverbs, and only too many of 
them, exist. For if they are, as we have recognised 
them to be, the genuine transcript of what is stirring 
in the hearts of men, then, since there is cowardice, 
untruth, selfishness, unholiness, profaneness there, 
how should these be wanting here ? The world is 
not so consummate an hypocrite as the entire 
absence of all immoral proverbs would imply. 
There will be merely selfish ones, as our own : 
Every one for himself, and God for us all ; or as 
this Dutch : Self's the man ;* or more shamelessly 
cynical still, as the French : Better a grape for me, 
than two figs for thee ;t or again, such as proclaim 
a doubt and disbelief in the existence of any high 
moral integrity anywhere, as Every man has his 
price ; or assume that poor men can scarcely be 
honest, els It is hard for an empty sack to stand 
straight; or take it for granted that every man 
would cheat every other if he could, as the French : 
Count after your father ;% or, if they do not actually 
" speak good of the covetous,^^ yet assume it pos- 
sible that a blessing can wait on that which a 
wicked covetousness has heaped together, as the 
Spanish : Blessed is the son, whose father went to 
the devil ; or find cloaks and apologies for sin, as 

* Zelf is de Man. 

t J'aime mieux an raisin pour moi que deux fignes pour 

:|: Comptez apr^s votre p^re. Compare the Spanish: 
Entre dos amigos an notario y dos testigos. 


the German : Once is never ;* or such as^would 
imply that the evil of a sin lay not in its sinfulness^ 
but in the outward disgrace annexed to it, as the 
Italian : A sin concealed is half forgiven,^ Or 
again there will he proverbs dastardly and base, as 
the Spanish maxim of caution, which advises to 
Draw the snake from its hole by another maris 
hand ; to put, that is, another, and it may be for 
your own profit, to the peril from which you shrink 
yourself; — or more dastardly still, "scoundrel 
maxiras,^^ an old English poet has called them; as 
for instance, that one which is acted on only too 
often : One must howl with the wolves ; J in other 
words, when a general cry is raised against any, it 
is safest to join it, lest one be supposed to sympa- 
thise with its object ; to howl with the wolves, if 
one would not be hunted by them. In the whole 
circle of proverbs I know no baser, nor more 
dastardly than this. And yet who will say that he 

* Einmal, keinmal. This proverb was turned to such 
bad uses, that a German divine thought it necessary to 
write a treatise against it. There exist indeed several old 
works in German with such titles as the following, Un- 
podly Proverbs and their Refutation. It is not for nothing 
that Jeremy Taylor in one place gives this warning : " Be 
curious to avoid all proverbs and propositions, or odd 
sayings, by which evil life is encouraged, and the hands of 
the spirit weakened." In like manner Chrysostom (Horn. 
73 in Matt.) denounces the Greek proverb : y\vK^ $t«» koi 

t Peccato celato, mezzo perdonato. 
X Badly turned into a rhyming pentameter : 
Consonus esto lupis, cum quibus esse cupis. 


has never traced in himself the cowardly temp- 
tation to obey it ? Besides these there will be, of 
which I shall spare you any examples, proverbs 
wanton and impure, and not merely proverbs thus 
earthly and sensual, but devilish ; such as some of 
those Italian on revenge which I quoted in my 
third lecture. 

But for all this these immoral proverbs, rank 
weeds among the wholesome corn, are comparai^ 
tively rare. In the minority with all people, they 
are immeasurably in the minority with most. The 
fact is not a little worthy of our note. Surely 
there lies in it a solemn testimony, that however 
men may and do in their conduct continually 
violate the rule of right, yet these violations are 
ever felt to be such, are inwardly confessed not to 
be the law of man^s life, but the transgressions of 
the law ; and thus, stricken as with a secret shame, 
and paying an unconscious homage to the majesty 
of goodness, they do not presume to raise them- 
selves into maxims, nor, for all the frequency with 
which they may be repeated, pretend to claim 
recognition as abiding standards of action. 

As the sphere in which the proverb moves is no 
imaginary world, but that actual and often very 
homely world which is round us and about us ; as 
it does not float in the clouds, but sets its feet 
firmly on this common earth of ours from which 
itself once grew, being occupied with present needs 
and every-day cares, it is only natural that the 
proverbs having reference to money should be 


Bumerous ; and in the main it would be well if the 
practice of the world rose to the height of its con- 
victions as expressed in these. Frugality is con- 
nected with so many virtues — at least, its contrary 
makes so many impossible — that the numerous 
proverbial maxims inculcating this, than which 
none perhaps are more frequent on the lips of 
men, must be regarded as belonging to the better 
order ;* especially when taken with the check of 
others, which forbid this frugality from degenerating 
into a sordid and dishonourable parsimony ; such, 
I mean, as our own : The groat is ill saved which 
shames its master. In how many the conviction 
speaks out that the hastily-gotten will hardly be 
the honestly.gotten, that " he who makes haste to 
be rich shall not be in nocent,'' as when the Spaniards 
say : He who will be rich in a year, at the half' 
year they hang him ;f in how many others, the con- 
fidence that the ill-won will also be the ill-spent,t 
that he who shuts up unlawful gain in his store- 
houses, is shutting up a fire that will one day 
destroy them. Very solemn and weighty in this 
sense is the German proverb : The unrighteous 
penny corrupts the righteous pound ;\ and the 
Spanish, too, is striking : That which is another's 

* There are very few inculcating an opposite lesson : 
this however is one : Spend, and God will send ; which 
Howell glosses well ; " Yes, a bag and a wallet." 

t Quien en un ano quiore ser rico, al medio le ahorcan. 

X Male parta male dilabuntur. — ^Wie gewonnen, so zer- 

§ Ungerechter Pfennig verzehrt gerechten Thaler. 


always yearns for its lord ;* it yearns, that is, to 
be gone and get to its true owner. In how many 
the conviction is expressed that this mammon, 
ifLich more than anything else men are tempted 
to think God does not concern Himself about, is 
yet given and taken away by Him according to the 
laws of his righteousness ; given sometimes to his 
enemies and for their greater punishment, that 
under its fatal influence they may grow worse and 
worse, for The more the carle riches, he toretches ; 
but oftener withdrawn, because no due acknow- 
ledgment of Him was made in its use; as when 
the German proverb declares : Charity gives itself 
Hch ; covetotisness hoards itself poor ;t and the 
Danish : Give alms, that thy children may not ask 
them ; and the Babbis, with a yet deeper signifi- 
cance : Alms are the salt of riches ; the true anti- 
septic, which as such shall prevent them from them- 
selves corrupting, and from corrupting those that 
have them ; which shall hinder them from develop- 
ing a germ of corruption, such as shall in the end 
involve in one destruction them and their owners. J 

• Lo ageno siempre pia pop su duefio. 

t Der Geiz sammlet sich arm, die Milde giebt sich reich. 
In the scDse of the latter half of this proverb we mj. 
Drawn wells are seldom dry; though this word is capable 
of very far wider application. 

X There is one remarkable Latin proverb on the moral 
cowardliness which it is the character of riches to gene- 
rate, saying more briefly the same which Wordsworth said 
when he proclaimed — 

" that riches are akin 
To fear, to change, to cowardice, and death ;" 


At the same time, as it is the very character of 
proverbs to look at matters all round, there are 
others to remind us that even this very giving 
itself shall be with forethought and discretion ; 
with selection of right objects, and in right propor- 
tion to each. Teaching this, the Greeks said. Sow 
with the hand, and not with the whole sack ;* for 
as it fares with the seed corn, which if it shall 
prosper, must be providently dispersed with the 
hand, not prodigally shaken from the sack^s mouth, 
so is it with benefits, which shall do good either to 
those who impart, or to those who receive them. 
Thus again, there is a Danish which says. So give 
to-day y that thou shalt be able to give to-morrow ; 
and another : So give to one, that thou shalt have 
to give to another,^ And as closing this series, as 
teaching us in a homely but striking manner, with 
an image Dantesque in its vigor, that a man shall 

ifc is this : Timidus Plutus : and has sometimes suggested 
to me the question whether he might not have had it in 
his mind when he composed his great sonnet in prospect 
of the invasion : 

" These times touch monied worldlings with dismay ;** 
not that his genius needed any such solicitation from 
without ; for the poem is only the natural outgrowth of 
that spirit and temper in which the whole series of noble 
and ennobling poems, the Sonnets to Liberty , is composed, 
and in perfect harmony with the rest ; yet is it, notwith- 
standing, in a very wonderful way shut up in the two 
words of the ancient proverb. 

t Griv saa i Dag, at du og kandst give i morgen. — Gir 
een at du kand give en anden. 


carry nothing away with him when he dieth, take 
this Italian^ Our last robe, that is our winding 
sheet, is made ivithout pockets,^ 

Let me further invite you to observe and to 
admire the prevailing tone of manliuess which 
pervades the great body of the proverbs of all 
nations : let me urge you to take note how very 
few there are which would fain persuade you that 
" luck is all/' or that your fortunes are in any 
other hands, under God, than your own. This our 
own proverb, Win purple and wear purple, pro- 
claims. There are some, but they are exceptions, 
to which the gambler, the idler, the so-called 
" waiter upon Providence," can appeal. For the 
most part, however, they courageously accept the 
law of labour. No pains, no gains, — No sweat, 
no sweet, — No mill, no m€al,f as the appointed 
law and condition of man's life. Where loilt thou 
go, ow, that thou unit not have to plough ?X is the 
Catalan remonstrance addressed to one, who ima- 
gines by any outward change of circumstances to 
evade the inevitable task and toil of existence. 
And this is Turkish : // is not tvith saying Honey, 
Honey, that sweetness will come into the mouth ; 
and to many languages another with its striking 

♦ L'ultimo vestito ce lo fanno senza tasche. 

t This is the English form of that worthy old classical 
proverb: ^cuywv fivKov, ak^fura (jyevyci, or in Latin: Qui vitat 
molam, vitat farinam. 

J Ahont aniras, bou, que no Uaures P I prefer this form 
of it to the Spanish : Adonde yra el buey, que no are P 


image, Sloth, the key of poverty,^ belongs : while, 
on the other hand, there are in almost all tongues 
such proverbs as the following : God helps them 
that help themselves :^ or as it appears with a 
slight variation in the Basque : God is a good 
worker, but He loves to be helped. And these 
proverbs, let me observe by the way, were not 
strange, in their import at least, to the founder of 
that religion which is usually supposed to inculcate 
a blind and indolent fatalism — however some who 
call themselves by his name may have forgotten 
the lesson which they convey. Certainly they 
were not strange to Mahomet himself; if the fol- 
lowing excellently-spoken word has been rightly 
ascribed to him. One evening, we are told, after 
a weary march through the desert, he was camping 
with his followers, and overheard one of them say- 
ing, "1 will loose my camel, and commit it to 
God ;" on which Mahomet took him up : "Friend, 
tie thy camel, and commit it to God ;'' % do, that is, 
whatever is thine to do, and then leave the issue 
in higher hands ; but till thou hast done this, till 
thou hast thus helped thyself, thou hast no right 
to look to Heaven to help thee. 

How excellently this unites genuine modesty and 
manly self-assertion : Sit in your own place, and 
no man can make you rise ; and how good is this 

* Pereza, llave de pobreza. 
t Dii facientes adjuvant. 

t According to the Spanish proverb : Quien bicn ata, 
hien desats^ 


Spanish^ on the real dignity which there often is in 
doing things for ourselves^ rather than in standing 
hy and suffering others to do, them for us : Who 
has a mouth, let him not say to another^ Blow.* 
And as a part of this which I have called the 
manliness of proverbs^ let me especially note the 
noble utterances which so many contain, summon- 
ing to a brave encountering of adverse fortune, to 
perseverance under disappointment and defeat and 
a long-continued inclemency of fate ; breathing as 
they do, a noble confidence that for the brave and 
bold theworldwill not always be adverse. fVhere one 
door shuts another opens ;f this belongs to too 
many nations to allow of our ascribing it especially 
to any one. And this Latin : The sun of all days 
has not yet gone down,X however, in its primary 
application intended for those who are at the top 
of Fortune^s wheel, to warn them that they be not 
high-minded, for there is yet time for many a revo- 
lution in that wheel, is equally good for those at 
the bottom, and as it contains warning for those, so 
strength and encouragement for these ; for, as the 
Italians say : The world is his who has patience.^ 
And then, to pass over some of our own, so familiar 
that they need not be adduced, how manful a lesson 
is contained in this Persian proverb : A stone that 
is fit for the wall, is not left in the way. It is 

* Quien tiene boca, no diga a otro, Sopla. 
t Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre. 
X Nondam omnium dierum sol occidit. 
§ Hmondo h, di chi ha pazienza. 


a saying made for them who appear for a while to 
be overlooked, neglected, passed by ; who perceive 
in themselves capacities, which as yet no one 
else has recognised or cared to turn to account. 
Only be fit for the wall; square, polish, prepare 
thyself for it ; do not limit thyself to the bare 
acquisition of such knowledge as is absolutely ne- 
cessary for thy present position ; but rather learn 
languages, acquire useful information, stretch thy- 
self out on this side and on that, cherishing and 
making much of whatever aptitudes thou findest in 
thyself; and it is certain thy turn will come. Thou 
wilt not be left in the way ; sooner or later the 
builders will be glad of thee ; the wall will need 
thee to fill up a place in it, quite as much as thou 
needest a place to occupy in the wall. For the 
amount of real capacity in this world is so small, 
that places want persons to fill them quite as really 
as persons want to fill places ; although it must be 
allowed, they are not always as much aware of 
their want. 

And this proverb, Italian and Spanish, If I have 
lost the ring, yet the fingers are still here,^ is 
another of these brave utterances of which I have 
been speaking. In it is asserted the comparative 
indifference of that loss which reaches but to 
things external to us, so long us we ourselves re- 
main, and are true to ourselves. The fingers are 
far more than the ring : if indeed those had gone, 

* Se ben ho perso Fanello, ho pur anche le dita ;— Si 
se perdieroR las anillos, aqui quedaron los dedillos. 


then the man would have been maimed ; but 
another ring may come for that which has disap- 
peared^ or even with none the fingers will be fingers 
still. And as at once a contrast and complement to 
this, take another, current among the free blacks 
of Hayti, and expressing well the little profit which 
there will be to a man in pieces of mere good luck, 
which are no true outgrowths of anything which is 
in him ; the manner in which, having no root in 
himself out of which they grew, they will, as they 
came to him by hazard, go from him by the same : 
The knife which thou hast found in the highway, 
thou tvilt lose in the highway.^ 

bidding us first to aid ourselves, if we would have 
Heaven to aid us, must not be dismissed without a 
word or two at parting. Prizing them, as we well 
may, and the lessons which they contain, at the 
highest, yet it will be profitable for us at the same 
time always to remember that to such there lies 
very near such a mischievous perversion as this : 
" Aid thyself, and thou wilt need no other aid ;^' 
even as they have been sometimes, no doubt, under- 
stood in this sense. As, then, the pendant and 
counter- weight to them all, not as unsaying what 

* In their bastard French it runs thus : Gambette ou» 
trouv^ nen gan chimin, nen gan chimin ous va p^dd li. 
It may have been originally French, at any rate the French 
have a proverb very much to the same effect : Ce qui vient 
par la flute, s'en va par le tambour ; and compare the mo- 
dern Greek proverb : *Ap€fiofia^o>(iaTa, baifAovo(rKop7ri(rfiaTa, 
(What the wind gathers, the devil scatters.) 


they have said, but as fulfilling the other hemi- 
sphere in the complete orb of truth, let me remind 
you of such also as the following, often quoted or 
alluded to by Greek and Latin authors : The net 
of the sleeping {fisherman) takes ;^ — a proverb the 
more interesting, that we have in the words of the 
Psalmist, (Ps. exxvii. 2,) when accurately translated, 
a beautiful and perfect parallel : " He giveth his 
beloved^^ (not " sleep,'' as in our version, but) " in 
sleep ;'' God's gifts gliding into his bosom, he 
knowing not how, and as little expecting as having 
laboured for them. Of how many of the best gifts 
of every man's life will he not thankfully acknow- 
ledge this to have been true ; or, if he refuse to 
allow it, and will acknowledge no eucUemonia, no 
' favourable providence' in his prosperities, but will 
see them all as of work, how little he deserves, 
how little likely he is, to retain them to the end. 
Let us hold fast, then, this proverb as the most 
needful complement of those. 

I feel that I should be wanting to hearers such 
as those who are assembled here, that I should fail 
in that purpose which has been, more or less, pre- 
sent to me even in dealing with the lighter portions 

♦ EvbovTi, Kvpros aipei. — ^Dormienti rete trahit. The 
reader with a Plutarch* s Lives within his reach may turn 
to the very instructive little history told in connexion 
with this proverb, of Timothens the Athenian commander ; 
.an history which only requires to be translated into 
Christian language to contain a deep moral for all. {SuUa, 



of my subject, if I did not earnestly remind you of 
the many of these sayings that there are, which, 
while they have their lesson for all, yet seem more 
directly addressed to those standing, as not a few of 
us here, at the threshold of the more serious and 
earnest portion of their lives. Lecturing to a Young 
Men's Society, I shall not unfitly press these upon 
your notice. Take this Italian one, for instance : 
When you grind your corn, give not the flour to 
the devil, and the bran to God ; — in the distribution, 
that is, of your lives, apportion not your best years, 
your strength and your vigour to the service of sin 
and of the world, and only the refuse and rejected 
to your Maker, the wine to others, and the lees 
only to Him. Not so ; for there is another ancient 
proverb,* which we have made very well our own, 
and which in English runs thus : It is too late to 
spare, when all is spent. The words have obviously 
a primary application to the goods of this present 
life ; it is ill saving here, when nothing or next to 
nothing is left to save. But they are applied well 
by a heathen moralist, (and the application lies very 
near,) to those who begin to husband precious time, 
and to live for lifers true ends, when life is nearly 
gone, is now at its dregs ; for, as he well urges, it 
is not the least only which remains at the bottom, 
but the worst.f On the other hand. The morning 
hour has gold in its mouth ;% and this, true in 

* Sera in imo parsimonia. 

t Seneca (Ep, i.) : Non enim tantum minimum in imo, 
fied pessimum remanet. 

X Morgenstund* hat Gold im Mand. 
I 2 


respect of each of our days, in which the earlier 
hours given to toil will yield larger and more genial 
returns than the later, is true in a yet higher sense, 
of that great life-day, whereof all the lesser days of 
JMV life make up the moments, is true in respect 
of moral no less than mental acquisition. The 
evening hours have often only silverin their mouths 
at the best. Nor is this Arabic proverb, as it 
appears to me, other than a very solemn one, being 
far deeper than at first sight it might seem : Every 
day in thy life is a leaf in thy history; a leaf which 
shall once be tiirned back to again, that it may be 
seen what was written there ; and that whatever 
was written may be read out in the hearing of all. 
And among the proverbs having to do with a 
prudent ordering of our lives from the very first, 
this Spanish seems well worthy to be adduced : 
That which the fool does in the end, the wise man 
does at the beginning;* the wise with a good grace 
what the fool with an ill ; the one to much profit 
what the other to little or to none. A word worth 
laying to heart ; for, indeed, that purchase of the 
Sibylline books by the Roman king, what a signi- 
ficant symbol it is of that which at one time or 
another, or, it may be, at many times, is finding 
place in almost every man^s life ; — the same thing 
to be done in the end, the same price to be paid at 
the last, with only the diflerence, that much of the 
advantage, as well as all the grace, of an earlier 
compliance has past away. The nine precious^ 

* Lo que hace el loco a la postre, hace sabio al principiot 


volumes have shrunk to six, and these dwindled to 
three, while yet the like price is demanded for the 
few as for the many ; for the remnant now as 
would once have made all our own. 

I have already in a former lecture adduced a 
proverb which warns against a bad book as the 
worst of all robbers. In respect too of books 
which are not bad, nay, of which the main staple 
is good, but in which there is yet an admixture of 
«vil, as is the case with so many that have come 
down to us from that old world not as yet partaker 
of Christ, there is a proverb, which may very pro- 
fitably accompany us in our study of all these : 
Where the bee sucks honey, the spider sucks poison. 
Very profitably may this word be kept in mind by 
such as at any time are making themselves familiar 
with the classical literature of antiquity, the great 
writers of heathen Greece and Rome. How much 
of noble, how much of elevating do they contain : 
what love of country, what zeal for wisdom, may 
be quickened in us by the study of them ; yea, 
even to us Christians what intellectual, what large 
moral gains will they yield. Let the student be 
as the bee looking for honey, and from the fields 
and gardens of classical literature he may store it 
abundantly in his hive. And yet from this same 
body of literature what poison is it possible to 
draw ; what loss, through familiarity with evil, of 
all vigorous abhoiTence of it, till even the foulest 
enormities shall come to be regarded with a specu- 
lative curiosity rather than with an earnest hatred, 
— yea, what lasting defilements of the imagination 


and the heart may he contracted hence, till 
nothing shall he pure, the very mind and con- 
science heing defiled. Let there come one whose 
sympathies and affinities are with the poison and 
not with the honey, and in these fields it will not 
be impossible for him to find deadly flowers and 
weeds from which he may suck poison enough. 

With a few remarks on two proverbs more I 
will bring this lecture to an end. Here is one with 
an insight at once subtle and profound into the 
heart of man : /// doers are ill deemers ; and 
instead of any commentary on this of my own let 
me quote some words which were not intended to 
be a commentary upon it at all, and which furnish 
notwithstanding a better than any which I could 
hope to give. They are words of a great English 
divine of the 17th century, who is accounting for 
the ofience which the Pharisee took at the Lord^s 
acceptance of the aflectionate homage and costly 
offering of the woman that was a sinner : " Which 
familiar and affectionate officiousness, and sump- 
tuous cost, together with that sinister fame that 
woman was noted with, could not but give much 
scandal to the Pharisees there present. For that 
dispensation of the law under which they lived 
making nothing perfect, but only curbing the out- 
ward actions of men ; it might very well be that 
they, being conscious to themselves of no better 
motions within than of either bitterness or lust, 
how fair soever they carried without, could not 
deem Christ^s acceptance of so familiar and affec- 
tioDaie a service from a woman of that fame to 


proceed from anything better than some loose and 
vain principle ... for by how much every one is 
himself obnoxious to temptation^ by so much more 
suspicious he is that others transgress, when there 
is anything that may tempt out the corruptions of 
a man.''* 

And in this* Chinese proverb which follows. 
Better a diamond with a flaw, than a pebble 
vnthout one, there is, to my mind, the assertion of 
a great Christian truth, and of one which reaches 
deep down to the very foundations of Christian 
morality, the more valuable as coming to us from 
a people beyond the range and reach of the 
influences of direct Revelation. We may not be 
all aware of the many and malignant assaults 
which were made on the Christian faith, and on 
the morality of the Bible, through the character of 
David, by the blind and self-righteous Deists of a 
century or more ago. Taking the Scripture testi- 
mony about him, that he was the man after God's 
heart, and putting beside this the record of those 
great sins which he committed, they sought to set 
these great, yet still isolated, offences in the most 
hateful light ; and thus to bring at once him, and 
the Book which praised him, to a common shame. 
But all this while, the question of the man, what 

* Henry More, On Godliness, b. 8. How remarkable a 
confirmation of the fact asserted in that proverb and in 
this passage lies in the twofold uses of the Greek word 
KaKorjdcia ; having, for its first meaning, an evil disposition 
in a man's self, it has for its second an interpreting on his 
part for the worst of all the actions of other men. 


he was, and what the moral sum total of his life, 
to which alone the Scripture testimony bore wit- 
ness, and to which alone it was pledged, this was a 
question with which they concerned themselves not 
at all ; while yet it was a far more important 
question than what any of his single acts may have 
been ; and it was this which, in the estimate of his 
character, was really at issue. To this question we 
answer, a diamond, which, if a diamond with a 
jlaWy as are all but the one " entire and perfect 
chrysolite,^^ would yet outvalue a mountain of 
pebbles without one, such as they were; even 
assuming the pebbles to be without ; and not 
merely to seem so, because their flaw was an all- 
pervading one, and only not so quickly detected, 
inasmuch as the contrast was wanting of any clearer 
material which should at once reveal its presence. 




I SOUGHT, as best I could, in my last lecture 
to furnish you with some helps for estimating 
the ethical worth of proverbs. Their theology alone 
remains; the aspects, that is, under which they 
contemplate, not now any more man^s relations 
with his fellow-man, but those on which in the end 
all other must depend, his relations with God. 
Between the subjectmatter, indeed, of that lecture 
and of this I have found it nearly impossible to 
draw any very accurate line of distinction. Much 
which was there might nearly as fitly have been 
here ; some which I have i^si5n';ed for this might 
already have found its'pliEWje ^ihH'Sl^. It is this, how- 
ever, which I propt^e 'lE^e diiectly to consider, 
namely, what proverb* hire ib\say concerning the 
moral government crf'.'tbe world, and, more im- 
portant still, concerning-it3 Governor ? How does 
all this present itself to the popular mind and 
conscience, as attested by these ? What, in short, 
is their theology ? for such, good or bad, it is 
evident that abundantly they have. 

Here, as everywhere else, their testimony is a 
mingled one. The darkness, the error, the con- 
fusion of man's heart, out of which he oftentimes 


sees distortedly^ and sometimes sees not at all^have 
all embodied themselves in his word. Yet stilly as 
it is the very nature of the false, in its separate 
manifestations, to resolve into nothingness, though 
only to be succeeded by new births in a like kind, 
while the true abides and continues, it has thus 
come to pass that we have generally in those utter- 
ances on which the stamp of permanence has been 
set, the nobler voices, the truer faith of humanity, 
in respect of its own destinies and of Him by 
whom those destinies are ordered. 

I would not hesitate to say that the great glory 
of proverbs in this their highest aspect, and that 
which makes many of them so full of blessing to 
those who cordially accept them, is the conviction 
of which they are full, that, despite all appearances 
to the contrary, this world is God's world, and not 
the world of the devil, or of those wicked men who 
may be prospering for an hour ; there is nothing in 
them so precious as their faith that in the long run 
it will approve itself to be such : which being so, 
that it must be well in the end with the doer of 
the right, the speaker of the truth; no blind 
" whirligig of time,'' but the hand of the living 
God, in due time ^^ bringing round its revenges." 
It is impossible to estimate too highly their bold 
and clear proclamation of this conviction ; for it is, 
after all, the belief of this or the denial of this, on 
which everything in the life of each one of us turns. 
On this depends whether we shall separate ourselves 
from the world's falsehood and evil,and do vigorous 

yl] a lie has no legs. 123 

battle against them ; or acquiesce in^ and be our- 
selves absorbed by, them. 

Listen to proverbs such as these; surely they are 
penetrated with the assurance that one who^ Him- 
self being The Truth, will make truth in small and 
in great to triumph at the last, is ruling over all : 
and first, hear a proverb of our own : A lie has no 
legs ; it is one true alike in its humblest application 
and its highest; be the lie the miserable petty 
falsehood which disturbs a family or a neighbour- 
hood for a day ; or one of the larger frauds, the 
falsehoods not in word only but in act, to which 
a longer date and a far larger sphere are assigned, 
which for a time seem to fill the world, and to 
carry everything in triumph before them. Still 
the lie, in that it is a lie, always carries within 
itself the germs of its own dissolution. It is sure 
to destroy itself at last. Its priests may prop it 
up from without, may set it on its feet again, after 
it has once fallen before the presence of the truth, 
yet this all will be labour in vain ; it will only be, 
like Dagon, again to fall, and more shamefully and 
more irretrievably than before.* On the other 
hand, the vivacity of the truth, as contrasted with 
this short-lived character of the lie,is well expressed 
in a Swiss proverb : // takes a good many shovelfuls 

* Perhaps the Spanish form of this proverb is still better: 
La.inentira tiene cartas las piemas; for the lie does go, 
though not far. Compare the French : La v^rit^, comme 
rhuile, vient an dessus. 


of earth to bury the truth. For, bury it as deep as 
men may, it will have a resurrection notwithstand- 
ing. They may roll a great stone, and seal the 
sepulchre in which it is laid, and set a watch upon 
it, yet still, like its Lord, it comes forth again at 
its appointed hour. It cannot die, being of an 
immortal race ; for, as the Spanish proverb nobly 
declares. The truth is daughter of God.^ 

Again, consider this proverb : Tell the truth, 
and shame the devil. It is one which will well 
repay a few thoughtful moments bestowed on it, 
and the more so, because, even while we instinctively 
feel its truth, the deep moral basis on which it 
rests may yet not reveal itself to us at once. Nay, 
the saying may seem to contradict the actual expe- 
rience of things ; for how often telling the truth — 
confessing, that is, some great fault, taking home 
to ourselves, it may be, some grievous sin — ^would 
appear anything rather than shaming the devil; 
shaming indeed ourselves, but rather bringing glory 
to him, whose glory, such as it is, is in the sin 
and shame of men. And yet the word is true, 
and deeply true, notwithstanding. The element of 
lies is that in which alone he who is " the father 
of them'' lives and thrives. So long then as a 
wrong-doer presents to himself, or seeks to present 
to others, the actual facts of his conduct diflferent 
from what they really are, conceals, palliates, 
denies them, — so long, in regard of that man, 
Satan's kingdom stands. But so soon as the 

* La verdad e% \^^ de DLos. 

VI.] vox POPULI, VOX DEI. 125 

things concemiug himself are seen and owned by 
a man as they indeed exist in God's sight, as they 
are when weighed in the balances of the eternal 
righteousness ; when once a man has brought him- 
self to tell the truth to himself, and, where need 
requires, to others also, then having done, and in 
so far as he has done this, he has abandoned the 
deviPs standard, he belongs to the kingdom of the 
truth ; and as belonging to it he may rebuke, and 
does rebuke and put to shame, all makers and 
lovers of a lie, even to the very prince of them all. 
" Give glory to God,'' was what Joshua said to 
Achan, when he would lead him to confess his 
guilt. This is but the other and fairer side of the 
tapestry ; this is but shame the devil, on its more 
blessed side. 

Once more ; — the Latin proverb. The voice of 
the people, the voice of God,^ is one which it is 
well worth our while to understand. If it were 
affirmed in this that every outcry of the multitude, 
supposing only it be loud enough and wide enough, 
ought to be accepted as the voice of God speaking 
through them, no proposition more foolish or more 
impious could well be imagined. But the voice of 
the people is something very different from this. 
The proverb rests on the assumption that the 
foundations of man's being are laid in the truth ; 
from which it will follow, that no conviction which 
is really a conviction of the universal humanity, 
but reposes on a true ground ; no faith, which is 

• Vox populi, vox Del. 


indeed the faith of mankind^ but has a reality 
corresponding to it : for, as Jeremy Taylor has 
said : ^^ It is not a vain noise, when many nations 
join their voices in the attestation or detestation of 
an action ;'' and Hooker : ^' The general and per- 
petual voice of men is as the sentence of God Him- 
self. For that which all men have at all times 
learned, nature herself must needs have taught ; 
and God being the author of nature, her voice is 
but his instrument.'' {Eccles. Pol, b. i. § 8.) The 
task and difficulty, of course, must ever be to dis- 
cover what this faith and what these convictions 
are ; and this can only be done by an induction 
from a sufficient number of facts, and in sufficiently 
different times, to enable us to feel confident that 
we have indeed seized that which is the constant 
quantity of truth in them all, and separated this 
from the inconstant one of falsehood and error, 
evermore offering itself in its room ; that we have 
not taken some momentary cry, wrung out by 
interest, by passion, or by pain, for the voice of 
God ; but claimed this august title only for that 
true voice of humanity, which, unless everything 
be false, we have a right to assume an echo of the 
voice of God. 

Thus, to take an example, the natural horror 
everywhere felt in regard of marriages contracted 
between those very near in blood, has been always 
and with right appealed to as a potent argument 
against such unions. The induction is so large, 
that is, the nations who have agreed in entertaining 
this horror are so many, oftentimes nations dis- 

VI.] vox POPUU, vox DEL 127 

agreeing in almost everything besides ; the times 
during which this instinctive revolt against such 
unions has been felt, extend through such long 
ages ; that the few exceptions, even where they are 
of civilized nations, as of the Egyptians who 
married their sisters, or of the Persians, among 
whom marriages more dreadful still were permitted, 
cannot be allowed any weight ; and of course still 
less the exception of any savage tribe, in which all 
that constitutes the human in humanity has now 
disappeared. These exceptions can only be re* 
garded as violations of the divine order of man^s 
life ; not as evidences that we have falsely ima- 
gined an order where there was none. Here is 
a true voice of the people ; and on the grounds 
laid down above, we have a right to assume this 
to be a voice of God as well. And so too, with 
respect to the existence of a First Cause, Creator 
and Upholder of all things, the universal consent 
and conviction of all people, the consensus gentium^ 
must be considered of itself a mighty evidence in 
its favour ; a testimony which God is pleased to 
render to Himself through his creatures. This 
man or that, this generation or the other, might be 
deceived, but all men and all generations could 
not ; the vox populi makes itself felt as a vox Dei. 
The existence here and there of an atheist no more 
disturbs our conclusion that it is of the essence 
of man^s nature to believe in a God, than do 
such monstrous births as from time to time 
find place, children with two heads or with no 
arms, shake our assurance that it is the normal 


condition of man to have one head and two 

This last is one of the proverbs which may he 
said to belong to the Apology for Natural Religion. 
There are others, of which it would not be far- 
fetched to affirm that they belong to the Apology 
for Revealed. Thus it was very usual with 
Voltaire and other infidels of his time to appeal 
to the present barrenness and desolation of Pales- 
tine, in proof that it could never have supported 
the vast population which the Scripture every- 
where assumes or affirms. A proverb in the 
language of the arch-scoflTer himself might, if he 
had given heed to it, have put him on the right 
track, had he wished to be put upon it, for under- 
standing how this could have been : As the man is 
worth, his land is worth.* Man is lord of his 
outward condition to a far greater extent than is 
commonly assumed ; even climate, which seems at 
first sight so completely out of his reach, it is his 
immensely to modify ; and if nature stamps herself 
on him, he stamps himself yet more powerfully on 
nature. It is not a mere figure of speech, that of 
the Psalmist, " A fruitful land maketh He barren 
for the wickedness of them that dwell therein." 
(Ps. cvii. 34.) God makes it barren, and ever less 
capable of nourishing its inhabitants; but He makes 
it so through the sloth, the indolence, the short- 
sightedness of those that should have dressed and 
kept it. In the condition of a land may be found 

* Tant vaut rhomme, tant vaut sa terre. 


the echo, the reflection^ the transcript of the moral 
and spiritual condition of those that should culti- 
vate it: where one is waste, the other will be 
waste also. Under the desolating curse of Mo- 
hammedan domination the fairest portions of the 
earth have gone back from a garden to a wilder- 
ness : but only let that people for whom Palestine 
is yet destined return to it again, and return a 
righteous nation, and in a little while all the 
descriptions of its earlier fertility will be more than 
borne out by its later, and it will easily sustain its 
millions again. 

How many proverbs, which cannot be affirmed 
to have been originally made for the kingdom of 
heaven, do yet in their highest fulfilment manifestly 
belong to it, so that it seems as of right to claim 
that for its own, even as it claims, or rather reclaims^ 
whatever else is good or true in the world, the 
seeds of truth wherever dispersed abroad, as belong- 
ing rightfully to itself. Thus there is that beautiful 
proverb, of which Pythagoras is reputed the author: 
The things of friends are in common.^ Where 
does this find its exhaustive fulfilment, but in the 
communion of saints, their communion not with 
one another merely, though indeed this is a part of 
its fulfilment, but in their communion with Him, 
who is the friend of all good men? That such a 
conclusion lay legitimately in the words Socrates 
plainly saw ; who argued from it, that since good 

* ILoiva ra r&v <l>iK<op, 


meu were the friends of the gods^ therefore what- 
ever things were the gods', were also theirs; being, 
when he thus concluded, as near as one who had 
not the highest light of all, could be to that great 
word of the Apostle's, " All things are yours/' 

Nor can I otherwise than esteem the ancient 
proverb as a very fine one, and one which we may 
gladly claim for our own : Many meet the gods, 
but few salute them. How often do the gods, (for 
I will keep in the language which this proverb 
suggests and supplies,) meet nien in the shape of a 
sorrow which, might be a purifying one, of a joy 
which might elevate their hearts to thankfulness 
and praise ; in a sickness or a recovery, a disap- 
pointment or a success ; and yet how few, as it 
must be sadly owned, salute them ; hovr tew re- 
cognise their august presences in this joy or this 
sorrow, this blessing added, or this blessing taken 
away. As this proverb has reference to men's 
failing to see the Divine presences, so let me ob- 
serve by the way, there is a very grand French one 
which expresses the same truth, under the image 
of a failing to hear the divine voices, those voices 
being drowned by the deafening hubbub of the 
world : The noise is so great, one cannot hear 
God thunder.* 

Here is another proverb which the Church has 
long since claimed, at least in its import, for her 
own : One man^ no man.f I should find it very 
hard indeed to persuade myself that whoever 

* Le bruit est si fort, qu'on. n'entend pas Dieu toxmer. 
f Eh ay^p, ovbih dvrjp. 

VI.] ONE MAN, NO MAN. 131 

uttered it first, attached to it no deeper meauing 
than Erasmus gives him credit for — namely, that 
nothing important can be effected by a single man, 
destitute of the help of his fellows.* The word is 
a far more profound one than this, and rests on 
that great truth upon which the deeper thinkers 
of antiquity laid so much stress — ^namely, that in 
the idea the state precedes the individual, man 
not being merely accidentally ffreffarious, but 
essentially social. The solitary man, it would say, 
is a monstrous conception, so utterly maimed and 
crippled must he be ; the condition of solitariness 
involving so entire a suppression of all which be- 
longs to the development of that wherein the true 
idea of humanity resides, of all which differences 
man from the beasts of the field; and in this sense 
One man is no man ; and this, I am sure, the pro- 
verb from the first intended. Nor may we stop 
here. This word is capable of, and seems to 
demand, a still higher application to man, as a 
destined member of the kingdom of heaven. But 
he can only be in training for this, when he is, 
And regards himself, as not alone, but the member 
4of a family. As one man he is no man; and the 
strength and value of what is called Church 
teaching is greatly this, that it does recognise and 
realize this fact, that it contemplates and deals 
with the faithful man, not as isolated, but as one 
o( an organic body, with duties which flow as 

* Sensus est nihil egregium prsestari posse ab uno ho- 
^oame, omni auxilio destituto. 



moral necessities from liis position therein; rather 
than by himself^ and as one whose duties to others 
are indeed only the exercise of private graces for 
his own benefit. And all that are called Church 
doctrines, when they really understand themselves, 
have their root and their real strength in that 
great truth which this proverb declares, that One 
man is no man, that only in a fellowship and com- 
munion is or can any man be aught. 

And then there is another proverb, which Plato 
so loved to quote against the sophists, the men who 
flattered and corrupted the nobler youth of Athens, 
promising to impart to them easy short cuts to th 
attainment of wisdom and knowledge and philo- 
sophy ; and this, without demanding the exercise 
of any labour or patience or self-denial on their 
parts. But with the proverb. Good things are 
hard^ he continually rebuked their empty preten- 
sions ; with this he made at least suspicious their 
promises ; and this proverb, true in the sense 
wherein Plato used it, and that sense was earnest 
and serious enough, yet surely reappears, glorified 
and transfigured, but recognisable still, in the 
Saviour's words: "The kingdom of heaven is 
taken by violence, and the violent take it by 

* XoXfTra TO, KoXa. 
t The deepening of a proverb's use among Christian 
nations as compared with earlier applications of the same 
may be illustrated by an example, which however, as 
not being directly theological, and thus not bearing im- 
mediately upon the mattex mhaxid, lahall prefer to append 


This method of looking in proverbs for an higher 
meaning than any which lies on their surface, or 
which they seem to bear on their fronts; or rather of 
searching out their highest intention, and claiming 
that as their truest, even though it should not be 

in a note. An old Greek and Latin proverb, A great dty, 
•a great solitude, (Magna civitas, magna solitudo,) seems 
to have dwelt merely on the outside of things, and to have 
meant no more than this, namely, that a city ambitiously 
laid out and upon a large scheme would with difficulty 
£nd inhabitants sufficient, would wear an appearance of 
emptiness and desolation ; as there used to be a jest about 
Washington, that strangers would sometimes imagine 
themselves deep in the woods, when indeed they were in 
the centre of the city. But with deeper cravings of the 
human heart after love and affection, the proverb was 
claimed in an higher sense. We may take in proof these 
striking words of De Quincey, which are the more striking 
that neither they nor the context contain any direct re- 
ference to the proverb : " No man," he says, " ever was 
left to himself for the first time in the streets, as yet un- 
known, of London, but he must have felt saddened and 
mortified, perhaps terrified, by the sense of desertion and 
utter loneliness which belongs to his situation. No loneli- 
ness can be like that which weighs upon the heart in the 
centre of faces never ending; without voice or utterance 
for him ; eyes innumerable that have * no speculation' in 
their orbs which he can understand ; and hurrying figures 
of men and women weaving to and fro, with no apparent 
purposes intelligible to a stranger, seeming like a masque 
•of maniacs, or a pageant of shadowy illusions." A direct 
xeference to the proverb is to be found in some affecting 
words of Lord Bacon, who glosses and explains it exactly 
in this sense ; — " For a crowd is not company, and faces 
are but a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling 
-cymbal, where there is no love," 


that perceived in them by most, or that which lay 
nearest to them at their first generation, is one 
that will lead us in many interesting paths. And 
it is not merely those of heathen antiquity which 
shall thus be persuaded often, and that without 
any forcing, to render up a Christian meaning ; 
but (as was indeed to be expected) still more often 
those of a later time, even those which the world 
had seemed to claim for its own, shall be found to 
move in a spiritual sphere as their truest. Let 
me oflTer in evidence of this these four or five, 
which come to us from Italy : He who has love in 
his hearty has spurs in his sides; — Love rules 
without law ; — Love rules his kingdom without a 
sword ; — Love knows nothing of labour ; — Love t» 
the master of all arts.* Take these, even ¥dth 
the necessary drawbacks of my English transla- 
tion ; but still more, in their original beauty ; and 
how exquisitely do they set forth, in whatever 
light you regard them, the free creative impulses 
of love, its delight to labour and to serve ; how 
worthily do they glorify the kingdom of love as 
the only kingdom of a free and joyful obedience^ 
While yet at the same time, if we would appre- 
ciate them at all their worth, is it possible to stop 
short of an application of them to that kingdom 

• Chi ha I'amor nel petto, ha lo sprone a i fianchi. — 

Amor regge senza legge. (Cf. Eom. xiii. d, 10.)— • Amor 

regge il suo regno senza spada. — ^Amor non conosce tra- 

vaglio. (Cf. Gen. xxix. 20, 30,) — Di tutte le arti maestro b 

amore. — ^Pi tutto condimento ^ amoie. 


of love, which, because it is in the highest sense 
such, is also a kingdom of heaven ? And then, 
what precious witness do these utterances contain, 
the more precious as current among a people 
nursed in the theology of Rome, against the 
shameless assertion that selfishness is the only 
motive suflBcient to produce good (?) works : for in 
such an assertion the Romish impugners of a free 
justification constantly deal; evermore charging 
this that we hold, of our justification by faith only, 
(which, when translated into the language of ethics, 
is at least as important in the province of morality 
as it is in that of theology,) with being an immoral 
doctrine, and not so fruitful in deeds of love as one 
which should connect these deeds with a selfish 
thought of promoting our own safety thereby. 

There are proverbs which reach the height of 
evangelical morality. "Little gospels*'* the Spaniard 
has somewhat too boldly entitled his; and certainly 
there are many which at once we feel conld no- 
where have arisen or obtained circulation but under 
the influence of Christian faith, being in spirit, and 
often in form no less than in spirit, the outbirths 
of it. Thus is it with that exquisitely beautiful 
proverb of our own : The way to heaven is by 
Weeping-Cross ;•)[ nor otherwise with the Spanish: 
God never wounds with both hands; X i^ot with 

* EvangelioB pequefios. 

t Der Weg zum Himmel geht dorch Kreuzdom. Com< 
pare the medieval obverse of the same : Yia Cruois, via 

X No hiere Dies con dos manoB. 


bothy for He ever reserves one with which to bind 
up and to heal. And another Spanish, evidently 
intended to give the sum and substance of all 
which in life is to be desired the most, Peace and 
patience y. and death with penitence ^^ gives this 
sum certainly only as it presents itself to the Chris- 
tian eye. And this of ours is Christian both in 
form and in spirit : Every cross hath its inscrip- 
tion ; — the name, that is, inscribed upon it, of the 
person for whom it was shaped ; it was intended 
for those shoulders upon which it is laid, and will 
adapt itself to them ; that fearful word is never 
true which a spirit greatly vexed spake in the hour 
of its impatience : '* I have little faith in the pa- 
ternal love which I need ; so ruthless, or so negli- 
gent seems the government of this earth.'' t 

So too is it with that ancient German proverb : 
When God hathes aught y men presently loathe U 
too.X He who first uttered this must have been 
one who had watched long the ways by which 
shame and honour travel in this world ; and in this 
watching must have noted how it ever came to 
pass that even worldly honour tarried not long 

• Paz y paciencia, y muerte con penitencia. 

t Memoirs of Margaret Fuller, vol. 3, p. 266. In respect 
of words like these, wrung out from moments of agony, 
and not the abiding convictions of the utterer, may we not 
venture to hope that our own proverb, For mad words 
deaf ears, is often graciously true, even in the very courts 
of heaven P 

t Wenn Gott einDing verdreufst, so verdreufst es auch 
hsld die Menschen« 


with them from whom the true honour which 
Cometh from God had departed. For the worldly 
honour is but a shadow and reflex that waits upon 
the heavenly ; it may indeed linger for a little, but 
it will be only for a little, after it is divorced from 
its substance. Where the honour from Him has 
been withdrawn, he causes in one way or another 
the honour from men ere long to be withdrawn 
too. When He loathes, presently man loathes also. 
The saltless salt is not merely cast out by Him, 
but is trodden under foot of men. (Matt. v. 13.) 
A Louis the Fifteenth's death-bed is in its way 
as hideous to the natural as it is to the spiritual 

We are told of the good Sir Matthew Hale who 
was animated with a true zeal for holiness, an 
earnest de^e to walk close to God, that he had 
continually in his mouth^'the modemLatin proverb. 
We perish by permitted things. -^ Assuredly it is 
one very well worthy to be of all remembered, 
searching as it does into the innermost secrets of 
men's lives. It is no doubt true that nearly as 
much danger threatens the soul from things per- 
mitted as from things unpermitted ; in some re- 
spects more danger; for these being disallowed 

* The following have all a right to be termed Christian 
proverbs : Chi non vuol servir ad un solo Signor, I, molti 
ha da servir; — ^E padron del mondo chi lo disprezza, 
schiavo chi lo apprezza ; — Quando Dios quiere, con todos 
vientos Uueve. 

t Perimus licitis. 


altogetlier, do not make the insidious approaches 
of those, which, coming in under allowance^ do yet 
so easily slip into dangerous excess. 

It would be interesting to collect, as with rever- 
ence one might, variations on scriptural proverbs 
or sayings, which the proverbs of this world supply; 
and this, both in those cases where the latter have 
grown out of the former, owing more nearly or 
more remotely their existence to them, and in 
those also where they are independent of them, — so 
far^ that is, as anything true can be independent of 
the absolute Truth. Some of those which follow 
evidently belong to one of these classes, some to 
the other. Thus Solomon has said : ^^ It is better 
to dwell in the corner of the housetop than with a 
brawling woman in a wide house j*^ (Prov. xxi. 9;) 
and again : " Better a dry morsel and quietness 
therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with 
strife.^' (Prov. xvii. 1.) With these compare the 
two proverbs, a Latin and Spanish, adduced below.* 
The Psalmist has said : ^^ As he loved. cursing, so 
let it come unto him." (Ps. cix. 17.) The Turks 
express their faith in this same law of the divine 
retaliations: Curses, like chickens, always come 
home to roost : they return, that is, to those from 
whom they went forth, while in theYoruba language 
there is a proverb to the same eflfect : Ashes always 

* Non quam late sed quam Isete habites, refert.^Ma& 
vale nn pedazo de pan con amor, que gallinas con dolor. 

vl] pbovekbs and scbiptube. 139 

fly back in the face of him that throws them ; 
while our own, Harm watch, harm catch, and the 
Spanish, Who sows thorns, let him not walk bare- 
foot,^ are utterances of very nearly the same con- 
viction. Our Lord declares, that without his Father 
there falls no single sparrow to the ground, that 
" not one of them is forgotten before God/' (Luke 
xii. 6.) The same truth of a providentia specialise 
sima, (between which and no providence at all 
there is indeed no tenable position,) is asserted in 
the Catalan proverb : No leaf moves, but God wills 
it.f Again, He has said ; ^' No man can serve two 
masters." (Matt. vi. 24.) And the Spanish proverb: 
He who must serve two masters, must lie to one.X 
Or compare with Matt. xix. 29, this remarkable 
Arabic proverb : Purchase the next world with 
this ; so shalt thou win both. He has spoken of 
^'mammon of unrighteousness" — ^indicatinghereby, 
in Leighton's words, *' that iniquity is so involved 
in the notion of riches, that it can very hardly be 
separated from them;" and this phrase Jerome 
illustrates by a proverb that would not otherwise 
have reached us ; " that saying," he says, ''appears 
true to me : A rich man is either himself an unjust 

* Quien siembra abrojos, no ande descalzo. Compare 
the Latin: Si vnltnres, cadaver expects; and the French: 
Maudissons sont feuilles ; qui les seme, illesrecueille. 

t No se mou la fulla, que Deu no ha vulla. This is one 
of the proverbs of which the peculiar grace and charm 
nearly disappears in the rendering. 

X Quien h, dos senores ha de servir, al uno ha de mentir. 


one, or the heir ofoneP^ Again, the Lord has said : 
" Many be called, but few*chosen;^^ (Matt. xx. 16;) 
many have the outward marks of a Christian pro- 
fession, few the inner substance. Some early Chris- 
tian Fathers loved much to bring into comparison 
with this a Greek proverb, spoken indeed quite 
independently of it, and long previously; and the 
parallel certainly is a singularly happy one : The 
thyrsus-bearers are many, but the bacchants few ;t 
many assume the signs and outward tokens of 
inspiration, whirling the thyrsus aloft ; but those 
whom the god indeed fills with his spirit are few 
all the while.J With our Lord's words concerning 
the mote and the beam (Matt. vii. 3, 5) compare 
this Chinese proverb : Sweep away the snow from 

* Verum mihi videtur illud: Dives aut iniquus, ant 
iniqui hseres. Out of a sense of the same, as I take it, the 
striking Italian proverb had its rise : Mai diveuto fiume 
grande, chi non v' entrasse acqua torbida. 
t IloXXot Toi vapBT}Ko(t)6poif navpoi de re paKxoi, 
X The fact which this proverb proclaims, of a great gulf 
existing between what men profess and what they are, is 
one too frequently repeating itself and thrusting itself on 
the notice of all, not to have found its utterance in an infi- 
nite variety of forms, although none perhaps so deep and 
poetical as this. Thus there is another Greek line, fairly 
represented by this Latin : 

Qui tauros stimulent multi, sed rams arator ; 
and there is the classical Eoman proverb : Non omnes qui 
habent citharam, sunt citharoedi ; and the medieval rhym- 
ing verse : 

Non est venator quivis per comua flator ; 
and this Eastern word : Sast thou mounted the pulpit, thou 
art not therefore a preacher ; mth many more. 


thine own door, and heed not the frost upon thy 
neighbour's tiles. 

It has been sometimes a matter of consideration 
to me whether we of the clergy might not make 
larger nse, though of course it would be only 
occasional^ of proverbs in our public teaching than 
we do. Great popular preachers of time past, or, 
seeing that this phrase has now so questionable a 
sound, great preachers for the people, such as have 
found their way to the universal heart of their 
fellows, addressing themselves not to that which 
some men h^ different from others, but to that 
rather which « "h had in common with all, have 
been ever great employers of proverbs. Thus he 
who would know the riches of those in the German 
tongue, with the vigorous manifold employment of 
which they are capable, will find no richer mine 
to dig in than the works of Luther. And such 
employment of them would, I believe, with our 
country congregations, be especially valuable. Any 
one, who by after investigation has sought to dis- 
cover how much our rustic hearers carry away, 
even from the sermons to which they have atten- 
tively listened, will find that it is hardly ever the 
course and tenor of the argument, supposing the 
discourse to have contained such ; but if anything 
was uttered, as it used so often to be by the best 
puritan preachers, tersely, pointedly, epigramma- 
tically, this will have stayed by them, while all 
beside has passed away. Now, the merits of terse- 
ness and point, which have caused other words to 
be remembered, are exactly those which signalize 


the proTerb^ and generally in a yet higher 

It need scarcely be obsenred^ that^ if thus used^ 
they will have to be employed \?ith prudence and 
discretion^ and with a careful selection. Thus, even 
with the example of so grave a divine as Bishop 
Sanderson before me, I should hesitate to employ 
in a sermon such a proverb as Over shoes, over 
boots — one which he declares to be the motto of 
some, who having advanced a certain way in sin^ 
presently become utterly wretchless oaring not^ and 
counting it wholly indifferent^ how uch further in 
evil they advance. Nor would 1 xactly recom- 
mend such use of a proverb as St. [Bernard makes^ 
who, in a sermon on the angels, desiring to shew 
a priori the extreme probability of their active 
and loving ministries in the service of men^ ad- 
duces the Latin proverb : TFho loves me, loves my 
dog ;* and proceeds to argue thus ; We are the 
dogs under Christ's table ; the angels love Him, 
they therefore love us. 

But, although not exactly thus, the thing, I am 
persuaded, might be done, and with profit. Thus, 
in a discourse warning against sins of the tongue, 
there are many words which we might produce of 
our own to describe the mischief it inflicts that 
would be flatter, duller, less likely to be remem- 
bered than the old proverb : The tongue is not steel, 
but it cuts. On God's faithfulness in sustaining. 

* Qui me amat, amat et canem mcum. (Iri Fest. 8. 
MtcA. Serm. 1, § 3.) 


upholding, rewarding his servants, there are feebler 
things which we might bring out of our own 
treasure-house, than to remind our hearers of that 
word : He who serves God, serves a good Master. 
And this one might sink deep, telling of the enemy 
whom every one of us has the most to fear : No 
man has a worse friend than he brings with him 
from home. It stands in striking agreement with 
Augustine^s remarkable prayer '^ Deliver me from 
the evil man, from myself." * Or again : /// weeds 
grow apace ; — with how lively an image does this 
set forth to us the rank luxuriant up-growth of 
sinful lusts and desires in the garden of an uncared- 
for, untended heart. I know not whether we might 
presume sufficient quickness of apprehension on the 
part of our hearers to venture on the following : The 
horse which draws its halter is not quite escaped ; 
but I can hardly imagine an happier illustration of 
the fact, that so long as any remnant of a sinful 
habit is retained by us, so long as we draw this 
halter, we make but an idle boast of our liberty ; 
we may, by means of that which we still drag with 
us, be at any moment again entangled altogether 
in the bondage from which we seemed to have 
Entirely escaped. 

In every language some of its noblest proverbs, 
such as oftentimes are admirably adapted for this 
application of which I am speaking, are those em- 
bodying men's confidence in God's moral govern- 
ment of the world, in his avenging righteousness. 

* Libera me ab homine malO| a meipso. 


however much there may be in the confusions of 
the present evil time to provoke a doubt or even 
a denial of this. Thus^ Punishment is lame, but 
it comes, which, if not old, yet rests on an image 
derived from antiquity, is good ; although inferior 
in every way, in energy of expression, as in fulness 
of sense, to the ancient Greek one : The mill of 
God grinds late, but grinds to powder;* for this 
brings in the further thought, that his judgments, 
however long they tarry, yet, when they arrive, are 
crushing ones. There is indeed another of our own, 
not unworthy to be set beside this, announcing, 
though with quite another image, the same fact of 
the tardy but terrible arrivals of judgment : God 
comes with leaden feet, but strikes with iron hands. 
And then, how awfully sublime another which has 
come down to us as part of the wisdom of the 
ancient heathen world ; I mean the following : The 
feet of the {avenging) deities are shod with wooLf 
Here a new thought is introduced, — the noiseless 
approach and advance of these judgments, as noise- 
less as the steps of one whose feet were wrapped 
in wool, — the manner in which they overtake 
secure sinners even in the hour of their utmost 
security. Who that has studied the history of the 
great crimes and criminals of the world, but will 

* '0>(re Qfcjv oKeova-i fivXoi^ dXcovcrt 5c XcirTa. 
We may compare the Latin : Habet Deus suas horns, et 
moras; and the Spanish : Dios no se queja, mas lo suyono 
lo deja. 

f Du laneoB habent pedes. 


with a shuddering awe set his seal to the truth of 
this proverb? Indeed, meditating on such and 
on the source from which we have derived them^ 
one is sometimes tempted to believe that the faith 
in a divine retribution evermore making itself 
felt in the world, this sense of a Nemesis, as men 
used to call it, was stronger and deeper in the 
earlier and better days of heathendom, than alas I 
it is in a sunken Christendom now. 

But to resume. Even those proverbs which have 
acquired an use which seems to unite at once the 
trivial and the profane, may yet on closer inspec- 
tion be found to be very far from having either 
triviality or profaneness cleaving to them. There 
is one, for instance, often taken lightly enough 
upon the lips : Talk of the devil, and he is sure to 
appear ; or as it used to be : Talk of the devil, and 
his imps will appear ; or as in German it is : 
Paint the devil on the wall, and he tvill shew him^ 
self anon ; — which yet contains truth serious and 
important enough, if we would only give heed to 
it : it contains, in fact, a very solemn warning 
against a very dangerous sin, I mean, curiosity 
about evil. It has been often noticed, and is a 
very curious psychological fact, that there is a 
tendency in a great crime to reproduce itself, to 
call forth, that is, other crimes of the same cha- 
racter : and there is a fearful response which the 
evil we may hear or read about, is in danger of 
finding in our own hearts. This danger, then, 
assuredly makes it true wisdom, and a piece of 
moral prudence on the part of all to whom this ia 



permitted, to avoid knowing or learning about the 
evil ; especially when neither duty nor necessity 
oblige them thereto. It is men's wisdom to talk 
as little about the devil, either with themselves or 
•with others, as they can ; lest he appear to them. 
*' I agree with you,'* says Niebuhr very profoundly 
in one of his letters,* " that it is better not to read 
books in which you make the acquaintance of the 
devil." And certainly there is a remarkable com- 
mentary on this proverb, so interpreted, in the 
earnest warning given to the children of Israel, 
that they should not so much as inquire how the 
nations which were before them in Canaan, served 
their gods, with what cruelties, with what abomi- 
nable impurities, lest through this inquiry they 
should be themselves entangled in the same. (Deut 
xii. 29, 30.) They were not to talk about the devil, 
lest he should appear to them. 

And other proverbs, too, which at first sight 
may seem over-familiar with the name of the great 
enemy of mankind, yet contain lessons which it 
would be an infinite pity to lose ; as this German : 
Where the devil cannot come, he will send;^ a 
proverb of very serious import, which excellently 
sets out to us the penetrative character of tempta- 
tions, and the certainty that they will follow and 
find men out in their secretest retreats. It rebukes 
the absurdity of supposing that by any outward 

• Xt/e, vol. i.p. 812. 

t Wo der Teufel nicht hin mag komrnen, da send er 
aeinen Boten hin. 


arrangements, cloistral retirements, flights into the 
wilderness, sin can be kept at a distance. So far 
from this, temptations will inevitably overleap all 
these outward and merely artificial barriers which 
may be raised up against them ; for our great 
enemy is as formidable from a seeming distance as 
in close combat ; where he cannot come, he mil 
^end. There are others of the same family, as the 
following : The devil's meal is half bran ; or all 
bran, as the Italians still more boldly proclaim it ;* 
unrighteous gains are sure to disappoint the getter ; 
the pleasures of sin, even in this present time, are 
largely dashed with its pains. And this : He had 
need of a long spoon that eats with the devil; — 
men fancy they can cheat the arch-cheater, can 
advance in partnership with him up to a certain 
point, and then, whenever the connexion becomes 
too dangerous, break it oflF at their will ; being sure 
in this to be miserably deceived ; for, to quote 
another in the same tone: He who has shipped 
the d^l, must carry him over the water. Grant- 
ing these and the like to have been often carelessly 
uttered, yet they all rest upon a true moral basis 
in the main. This last series of proverbs I will 
dose with an Arabic one, to which not even this 
appearance of levity can be ascribed ; for it is as 
solemn and sublime in form as it is profoundly deep 
in substance : The blessings of the evil Genii are 
curses. How deep a meaning the story of Fortuna- 
tus acquires, when taken as a commentary on this. 

* La farina del diavolo se ne \^ vQ.%^T&s;Aa.« 


But I am warned to draw my lectm*e to an end. 
I have adduced in the course of these lectures 
no inconsiderable number of proverbs, and have 
sought for the most part to deduce from them 
lessons, which were lessons in common for us all. 
There is one, however, which I must not pass over, 
for I feel that it contains an especial lesson for 
myself, and a lesson which I should do wisely and 
well at this present time to lay to heart. When 
the Spaniards would describe a tedious writer, one 
who possesses the art of exhausting the patience of 
his readers, they say of him : He leaves nothing 
in his inkstand. The phrase is a singularly 
happy one, for assuredly there is no such secret of 
tediousness, no such certain means of wearing out 
the attention of our readers or our hearers, as the 
attempt to say everything ourselves, instead of 
leaving something to be filled up by their intelli- 
gence; while the merits of a composition are 
often displayed as really, if not so prominently, in 
what is passed over as in what is set down ; in 
nothing more than in the just measure of the-con* 
fidence which it shows in the capacities and powers 
of those to whom it is addressed. I would not 
willingly come under the condemnation, which 
waits on them who thus leave nothing in their 
inkstand ; and lest I should do so, I will bring now 
this my final lecture to its close, and ask you to 
draw out for yourselves those further lessons from 
proverbs, which I am sure they are abundantly 
capable of yielding. 


THE MIDDLE AGES. (See p. 29.) 

I HAVE not seen anjrwhere brought together a coL 
lection of these medieval proverbs cast into the 
form of a rhyming hexameter. Erasmus, though he 
often illustrates the proverbs of the ancient world by 
those of the new, does not quote, as far as I am aware, 
through the whole of his enormous collection, a single 
one of these which occupy a middle place between the 
two ; a fact which in its way is curiously illustrative 
of the degree to which the attention of the great 
Humanists at the revival of learning was exclusively 
•directed to the classical literature of Greece and Rome. 
Yet proverbs in this form exist in considerable num- 
ber ; being of very various degrees of merit, as will be 
•seen from the following selection ; in which some are 
keen and piquant enough, while others are of very 
subordinate value j those which seemed to me utterly 
valueless — and they were not few — I have excluded 
Altogether. The reader familiar with proverbs will 
detect correspondents to very many of them, besides 
the few which I have quoted, in one modern language 
or another, o£ken in many. 


Accipe, sume, cape, tria sunt gratissima Papae. 

Let me observe here, once for aM, that the lengthening of 
the final syllable in cape, is not to be set down to the igno- 
rance or carelessness of the writer ; but in the theory of 
the medieval hexameter, the unavoidable stress or pause 
on the first syllable of the third foot was counted sufficient 
to lengthen the shortest syllable in that position. 

Ad secreta poll curas extendere noli* 
^gro sanato, frustra dices, Kumerato. 
Amphora sub veste raro portatur honeste. 
Ante Dei vultum nihil unquam restat inultum. 
Ante molam primus qui yenit, non molat imus* 

A rule of natural equity : Prior tempore, prior jure ; — Firgt 
come, first serve, — ** Whoso first cometh to the mill, first 
grint." — Chaucer, 

Arbor naturam dat fructibus atque figuranou 
Arbor ut ex fructu, sic nequam noscitur actu. 
Ars compensabit quod vis tibi magna negabit. 
Artem natura superat sine vi, sine curl 
Aspera vox, Ite, sed vox est blanda, Yenite. 

An allusion to> Matt. xzr. 34, 41. 

Cari rixantur^ rixantes coneiliantur. 
Garius est carum, si prsegustatur amarum. 
Casus dementis eorreetio fit sapientis. 
Catus ssepe satur cum capto mure jocatur. 
Cautus bomo cavit, si quern natura notavit. 
Conjugium sine prole, dies veluti sine sole. 
Contra vim mortis non berbula crescit in hortis.. 


Cui pner assuescit, major dimittere nescit. 

The same appears also in a pentameter, and under aa 
Horatian image : Quod nova testa capit, inveterata sapit* 

Cui sunt multa bona, liuio dantur plunma dona. 

Cum jocus est yerus, joous est malus atque sevems. 

So the Spanish : Malas son las burlasverdaderas. 

Curvum se pwebet quod in uncum crescere debet. 

Curia Bomana non quserit ovem sine lanIL 

Dat bene, dat multum, qui dat cum munere yultum* 

'* He that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." (Bom. xii. 8.) 
Cf. Ecclus. XXXV. 9 J Seneca, De Bevtef,, u !• 

Deficit ambobus qui vult servire duobus. 
Dormit secure, cui non est functio cane. 

Far from court, far from care. 

Ebibo vas totum, si vis cognoscere potum. 
Est facies testis, quales intrinsecns estis. 
Est nulli certum cui pugna velit dare sertum. 
Ex lingu4 stult4 yeniunt iucommoda multa. 
Ex minimo crescit, sed non cito fama quiescit^ 
Eoemina ridendo flendo fallitque canenda 
Eran^tur ira gravis, cum fit responsio suavis. 
Eures in lite pandunt abscondita yit». 

So in Spanish : Bifien las comadres, y dicense las ver* 

Eurtivus potus plenus dulcedine totus. 

Hoc retine yerbum, frangit Deus omne superbunu 

Ilia mihi patria est, ubi pascor, non ubi nascor. 


Impedit onme forum defectus denariorum. 

In yestimentis uon stat sapientia mentis. 

In yili veste nemo tractatur honeste. 

The Russians have a worthier proverb : A man* 8 reception 
is according to his coat ; his dismissal according to his 

Lingaam frseuare plus est quam castra domare. 

Lingua susurronis est pejor felle draconis. 

Musca, canes, mimi veniunt ad fercula primL 

Mus salit in stratum, cum scit non adfore catum. 

Ne credas undam, placidam non esse profundam. 

Nil cito mutabis, donee meliora parabis. 

Nobilitas morum plus oruat quam genitorum. 

Non colit arva bene, qui semen mandat arenas. 

Non est in mundo dives qui dicit, Abundo. 

Non habet anguillam, per caudam qui tenet illam. 

Non stat secuiTis, qui protinus est ruiturus. 

Non vult scire satur quid jejunus patiatur. 

Omnibus est nomen, sed idem non omnibus omen. 

In a world of absolute truth, every name would be the 
exact utterance of the thing or person that bore it ; but in 
our world not every Irenseus is peaceable, nor every Blanche 
a blonde. Yigilantius ought rather, according to Jerome, 
to have been named Dormitantius ; and Antiochus Epi< 
phanes, (the Illustrious,) was for the Jews Antiochus 
Epimanes, (the Insane.) 

Parvis imbutus tentabis graudia tutus. 

Pelle sub agnini latitat mens ssepe lupina. 

Per multum, Cras, Cras, omnis consumitur setas. 

Prodigus est natus de parco patre creatus. 


Quando tumet venter, produntur facta latenter. 
Qui bene vult fari, debet bene prsemeditari. 
Quidquid agit raundus, monachus vult esse secundus. 
Qui petit alta nimis, retro lapsus ponitur imis. 
Qui pingit florem non pingit floris odorem. 
Qui se non noscat, vicini jurgia poscat 
Quisquis amat luscam, luscam putat esse vennstam. 
Quisquis amat ranam, ranam putat esse Dianam. 
Quod raro cemit oculi lux, cor cito spemit 
Quo minime reris, de gurgite pisce frueris. 
Quos vult sors ditat, et quos vult sub pede tritat. 
Res satis est nota, plus foetent stercora mota. 
Scribatur portis, Meretrix est janua mortis. 
Sepes calcatur, quH pronior esse putatur. 
Si curiam curas, pariet tibi curia curas. 
Si nequeas plures, vel te solummodo cures. 
Si non morderis, cane quid latranto vereris ? 
Stare diu nescit, quod uon aliquaudo quiescit. 
Subtrahe ligna focis, flammam restinguere si vis. 
Sunt asini multi solum bino pede fultL 
Sus magis in cceno gaudet quam fonte sereno. 
Tam male nil cusum, quod nullum prosit in usum. 
Tota equidem novi plus test4 pars valet ovi. 
Ultra posse viri non vult Deus uUa requiri. 
Verba satis celant mores, eademque revelaut. 
Vos inopes nostis, quis amicus quisve sit hostis. 
Yulpes vult fraudem, lupus agnum, fcemina laudem. 


Add to these a few of the same description, but nn« 
rhymed : 

Catus amat pisces, sed non Tult tingere plantam. 

It is with this proverb, which is almost of all langoageSy 
that Lady Macbeth taunts her husband, as one — 
'* Letting, I dare not, wait upon, I would, 
Like the poor cat i* the adage."— Act I. Scene 7. 

Cochlea consiliis, in factis esto volucris. 

Dat Deus omne bonum, sed non per comua tanronu 

The Chinese say : Even the ripest fruit does not drop into 
on^s mouth; and another Xiatin : Non volat in buocaS 
assa columba tuas. 

Ense cadunt mnlti, perimit sed crapula plures. 

Fiirfure se miscens porcorum dentibus estur. 

With a slight variation the Italian : Chi si fa fiuigo, il 
porco lo calpesta. 

Ipsa dies qnandoque parens, quandoqne noyerca. 
Invidus hand eadem semper quatit ostia DaBmon. 
Mirai:i, non rimari, sapientia yei*a est. 
Komina si nescis, perit et cognitio rerum. 
Kon stillant omnes quas cemis in aere nubes. 
Non venit ad silvam, qui cuncta rubeta veretur. 
Occurrit cuicunque Deus, paucique salutant. 
Pro ratione Deus dispertit frigora Testis. 
Quod rarum carum ; vilescit quotidianum. 
Sermones blandi non radunt ora loquentis. 
Stultorum calami carbones, moenia chartse. 

So the French : Muraille blanche, papier des sots. 


Add further a few which occupy two lines : 

Argue consultum, te diliget ; argue stultum, 
Avertet vultum, nee te dimittet inultum. 

Balnea cornici non prosunt, nee meretrici ; 
Kec meretrix munda, nee comix alba fit unda. 

Dives eram dudum ; fecerunt me tria nudum ; 
Alea, vina, Venus ; tribus his sum factus egenus. 

Quando mulcetur yillanns^ pejor habetur ; 
Ungentem pungit, pungentem rusticus ungit. 

Latin medieval ones in the same spirit abound : among 
others this detestable one with its curious triple rhyme : 
Bustica gens est optima flens, et pessima ridens. 

Si bene barbatum faceret sua barba beatum, 
NuUus in hoc circo queat esse beatior hirco. 

Si quH sede sedes, et sit tibi commoda sedes, 
Ilia sede sede, nee ab ill4 sede recede. 

Hoc scio pro certo, quod si cum stercore certo, 
Yinco seu vincor, semper ego maculor. 

Multum deliro, si cuique placere requiro ; 
Omnia qui potuit, h4c sine dote fuit. 

Permutant mores homines, cum dantur honores ; 
Corde stat inflato pauper, honore dato. 

















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